Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand and Danny DeNoux are not such guys as will fail to notice a shifty character fiddling with a cell phone at a nearby table.
It was last Friday when Robert Frenzel was spotted filming Normand and pals at their regular hangout in Old Metairie. Frenzel, from Dallas, is a private investigator, but evidently has a lot to learn about the art of surveillance. Instead of running off when confronted, perhaps he should have asked DeNoux for lessons. DeNoux was a pastmaster at this game before Frenzel was born 30 years ago.
Fleeing was futile anyway. Some of the objects of Frenzel’s curiosity tailed him and, for Normand, locating fugitives is all in a day’s work. Deputies flooded the neighborhood, and Frenzel was arrested after being discovered hiding behind an air conditioner.
He turned out to be in the employ of a company hired by U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s gubernatorial campaign. He had printouts in his car from some online research about a blogger who has been dishing dirt on Vitter from an interview with a hooker.
Vitter said, “Obviously (Normand’s) motives in the arrest were political” and “any notion that (Frenzel) was spying is ridiculous.”
It is true that the incident will have suited Normand just fine politically, for he makes no secret of his contempt for Vitter and believes he would be the worst governor Louisiana ever had. Normand was supporting Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who lost to Vitter the next day for the Republican spot in the runoff.
But Vitter omitted to explain why, if this was not political espionage, Frenzel had a seven-minute video of the coffee-shop meeting on his cell phone. Frenzel “wasn’t wiretapping anyone,” Vitter said, as though that gainsaid Normand’s suggestion that charges might be forthcoming. In fact, Normand might have a strong case under a state law makes it a crime to “intercept any wire, electronic or oral communication” without the consent of anyone participating. Still, Normand might feel that hauling some bumbling private detective into court would look vindictive without adding to Vitter’s embarrassment.
Last Friday was altogether an embarrassing day for Vitter, who, a few hours after Frenzel’s arrest, was a passenger in an automobile that was involved in a minor accident fairly close by. Vitter left the scene about as swiftly as Frenzel had bolted from the coffee shop and was long gone when Normand’s deputies arrived to cite his driver for improper lane usage.
This was an embarrassment for Vitter, supposing he is capable of feeling any, because the Sheriff’s Office named the driver as Courtney Guastella, his campaign finance director. While there is nothing untoward when a candidate keeps company with a staffer during an election campaign, the accident reminded voters that Guastella’s role is not a straightforward one. She is also a big wheel in the Fund for Louisiana, a super PAC that has raised millions to boost Vitter’s candidacy.
Super PACs are not subject to contribution limits so long as they do not coordinate with the campaigns they back, and it is not easy to reconcile Guastella’s dual role with that requirement. Vitter, meanwhile, has transferred $1 million from his Senate account to the Fund for Louisiana, presumably on the understanding that he will have nothing to say about how his own money is spent.
Perhaps it is cynical to doubt that PACs can remain entirely independent of the campaigns they are set up to promote just because they are seen in each other’s company. But Vitter is in no position to say so. During the primary campaign, Vitter circulated a photo of Dardenne staffers, meeting with representatives of his super PAC, that appeared to have been taken through a restaurant window. That was evidence enough for Vitter to accuse Dardenne of illicit coordination.
Elections are not much affected by events occurring the day before, but perhaps these two knocks on the Vitter reputation will prove significant in the runoff, especially as his whoring past and thin legislative record have already left him with high negatives in the polls. His runoff opponent, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, a West Point graduate of conservative outlook, has no unsavory past, and Vitter has so far found nothing better to throw at him than the threadbare lie that electing him would be like putting Barack Obama in charge of Louisiana. Vitter might need a defter touch than that.
James Gill’s email is email@example.com.