On the level of pure law and order, the public doesn’t lose much from Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s decision to drop charges against the private investigator caught spying on Sheriff Newell Normand on behalf of U.S. Sen. and then-gubernatorial candidate David Vitter.
The investigator, Robert Frenzel, had been booked with trespassing when he fled into the neighborhood near the Royal Blend coffee shop on Metairie Road, after Normand realized he and the other political insiders at his table were being recorded. As Normand admitted this week, the man was doing his job; it’s hard to make the case he presents an ongoing threat.
If we’re talking political intrigue, though, Connick’s decision comes as a disappointment. Admit it: If this thing had gone to trial, it would have been a hoot.
Sworn testimony would have finally revealed just why Vitter took the extraordinary step of hiring a private investigation firm to conduct surveillance on his adversaries. We might have finally learned what Vitter was seeking from the man who appeared to the be the real target: lawyer, Normand friend and John Bel Edwards supporter John Cummings. As it stands now, those who followed the bizarre episode can only guess — although video seized by Normand’s deputies showed a Vitter operative asking a woman to discredit claims made about the senator by a prostitute. That hints at the campaign’s agenda.
Connick, it so happens, is a longtime Vitter supporter, and was one of very few local officials to support his 1999 upstart congressional bid against establishment favorite Dave Treen.
Normand, meanwhile, has long loathed Vitter, dating way back to the days when the senator was first building his brand by painting politicians, including Normand’s late mentor Harry Lee, as ethically suspect. During the gubernatorial race, Normand cut an attack ad declaring Vitter “all about David Vitter.”
So from Normand’s perspective — and that of Edwards, who declared Vitter’s tactics downright Nixonian — the incident validated what he’d thought of Vitter for years. And judging by Vitter’s loss, not just across the state but in his own backyard of Jefferson Parish, a lot of voters had come around to Normand’s point of view.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.