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Senator May Be Forced to Testify in DC Madam Sex Scandal

WASHINGTON — Rekindling a scandal Sen. David Vitter hoped had faded, the attorney for the “D.C. Madam” asked Friday for a subpoena to force the Louisiana Republican to testify about his involvement in what prosecutors say was a high-priced prostitution ring.

Montgomery Sibley said he had asked the clerk of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to issue a subpoena to Vitter to testify at a Nov. 28 hearing that could spill salacious details of the scandal that has captivated the nation’s capital for more than a year.

Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the hearing to determine whether Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 50, can proceed with her breach-of-contract lawsuit against a woman she once employed as an escort. Palfrey said she signed contracts with all her escorts promising they wouldn’t do anything illegal and that Paula Neble broke it by engaging in prostitution.

Palfrey was indicted in March on federal racketeering and money-laundering charges and prosecutors say that her suit against Neble is meant to intimidate the former escort, one of several who are expected to testify in the criminal trial against the woman who has come to be known as the “D.C. Madam.”

“The issue at the hearing is whether the lawsuit is legitimate or not,” Sibley said in an interview. “Part of the proof will be whether the escort was breaking that contract. Only two people will know that answer: the escort and the customer.”

In July, Vitter acknowledged being a customer of Pamela Martin & Assoc., the escort service Palfrey operated for 12 years in the Washington area. His phone number appeared six times between 1999 and 2001 on phone records for the service.

Vitter has said little about his use of the escort service except that he committed a “very serious sin,” and sought forgiveness from God and his family. At a press conference this summer, he also apologized to his constituents. The scandal dogged him for months, but his steadfast refusal to discuss it has helped to push it out of the spotlight.

Vitter again declined Friday to answer questions about his involvement or what he plans to do with the Palfrey subpoena.

“Sen. Vitter has been very honest and straightforward about this issue from his past,” spokesman Joel DiGrado said. “He’s not going to be distracted from working on critical issues to Louisianians like overriding the Water Resources Development Act veto and fighting to solve the immigration problem.”

Vitter is not the only former Palfrey client being summoned to court. Sibley also has sought a subpoena for the testimony of Harlan Ullman, a former policy expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of the “shock and awe” strategy of military warfare.

The subpoena puts Vitter, especially, in an awkward and politically damaging position. The Senate Republican caucus welcomed Vitter back into the fold after his public confession in July, but it remains to be seen how much patience Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will show if Vitter’s troubles remain in the news. McConnell acted swiftly to condemn Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, after it became public that he had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges after being arrested in a gay-sex sting in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Craig has faced intense pressure from his own caucus to resign from the Senate but has refused and has sought to withdraw the guilty plea.

Legal experts say Vitter has little grounds to avoid testifying, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court said former President Bill Clinton had to provide testimony in Paula Jones’ civil lawsuit.

“He may also make some argument based on his being a member of Congress, but I doubt it will work,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond (Va.)

Sibley said he expects Vitter will try to quash the subpoena on the grounds that his testimony would not add much to the legal issues at the hearing. But, he said, Vitter’s public admission that he was a client, along with the phone records, could undercut that strategy.

“He has a problem because he went on TV and apologized,” Sibley said.

In addition, Vitter may have been a client of Neble, the escort at the center of the lawsuit that is the subject of the hearing.

Neble’s phone number appeared 1,590 times in records Palfrey has made public, an indication that she was a regular escort in the service Palfrey operated between 1994 and 2006. In one instance, her number shows up near Vitter’s, which Palfrey has said could mean she arranged a date for the two.

Legal experts say it is possible Vitter will attempt to avoid discussing the details of his dealings with Palfrey’s escorts by asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. But that, too, carries a political risk.

“The thing can hardly be viewed as a joyful experience,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “If he pleads the Fifth, he’ll put himself in the same category as mobsters and madams. If he testifies, he will create his own detailed record that can be used in his next campaign. Either way he is facing a serious problem.”

Sibley said that if Vitter asserts his right against self-incrimination, he will ask the judge to grant the senator immunity from criminal prosecution. On the surface, Vitter would appear exempt from being charged. The statute of limitations on prostitution is three years and Vitter’s last known interaction with the escort service was 2001.

The Vitter subpoena is not without its risks for Palfrey. Although unlikely because he might expose himself to legal liability, Vitter could testify that he paid to have sex with the escorts, an assertion that could undercut Palfrey’s defense that she was running a legal escort service.


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