WASHINGTON — Wendy Vitter, who was tapped in January by President Donald Trump for a federal judgeship, failed to disclose a number of past public remarks in response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, the panel's top Democrat charged Tuesday.
Vitter's responses left off potentially controversial anti-abortion speeches, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. Feinstein said Vitter also failed to disclose at least one political ad she appeared in on behalf of her husband, former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana.
Feinstein said the committee has requested an updated set of responses from Wendy Vitter and expressed worries that omissions by judicial nominees "are becoming a pattern under (the Trump) administration."
Vitter, who currently serves as general counsel to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, didn't mention a 2013 panel she led for Louisiana Right to Life titled "Abortion Hurts Women." She also left off a speech she gave at a 2013 protest at the slated site of Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast's Uptown New Orleans clinic and remarks she gave to a north Louisiana Tea Party group in 2015.
Alliance for Justice, a liberal judicial advocacy group, flagged those comments in a critical report it released last Thursday opposing Vitter's nomination. Vice News published a story on those omissions the same day.
The questionnaires request that federal judicial nominees disclose extensive information about past public statements, including listing every public speech they've given and article they've published.
I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the tone of Stephanie Grace’s recent commentary, “David Vitter’s long coattails extend to the judicia…
The wide-ranging questions — which also solicit detailed financial, educational and employment information — is designed to allow senators on the Judiciary Committee to catch potentially troubling issues with nominees or raise political objections.
Vitter, a longtime anti-abortion activist and former Orleans Parish assistant district attorney, appeared at numerous events on behalf of her husband during his time in public office.
The list of past public statements in Vitter's questionnaire response runs more than 21 pages, which Vitter wrote "are speaking appearances for which I have brief calendar entries or which were discovered through an online search."
With the exception of private toasts and other entirely personal events, Vitter added, the list "represents my best recollection of all speeches or talks I have delivered since high school."
Vitter's responses also make clear her extensive anti-abortion activism and political activity on behalf of her husband. Under "Honors and Awards," for instance, Vitter prominently lists a 2017 "Proudly Pro-Life Award" from the New Orleans Right to Life Educational Foundation.
Vitter did not respond to messages left at her Archdiocese of New Orleans office. The White House generally discourages judicial nominees from speaking to the media while their nominations are still pending.
A spokesman for Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, Matt Wolking, said Vitter made clear in her responses that she tried to be as comprehensive as possible but was working from calendar entries and online searches. The report criticizing omissions, Wolking said, "is a bogus attack pushed by leftwing activists and pro-abortion extremists."
Feinstein did not indicate whether she would oppose Vitter's nomination because of the disclosure issue and it's unclear whether it could potentially derail her confirmation. Senate Republicans have enough votes to confirm judges without Democratic support.
For a politician who was never particularly popular with his peers, David Vitter had some of the longest political coattails in memory.
But Feinstein said Vitter's apparent omissions come on the heels of issues with other Trump nominees — including Brett Talley, whose nomination for an Alabama judgeship imploded after thousands of anonymous online comments Talley authored and never disclosed were discovered by reporters, including posts defending the Klu Klux Klan and making light of rape.
Feinstein said another Trump nominee for a district court judgeship in Wisconsin, Gordon Giampietro, failed to mention an online post he wrote criticizing the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and calling workplace diversity shorthand for "relaxed standards."
"The committee can’t do its job and review nominees’ records if the administration hides information," Feinstein said, "and both parties should be furious at this routine practice under President Trump."
Critics of Vitter's nomination, including the Alliance for Justice, have also zeroed in on her stint as a prosecutor under former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr.
Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that prosecutors under Connick routinely withheld evidence from defendants and committed other acts of misconduct.
Both of Louisiana's senators, Cassidy and fellow Republican John Kennedy, have expressed support for Vitter's nomination to the New Orleans-based judgeship and have brushed off criticism of her record.
Cassidy called Vitter an "excellent" choice for the post. Kennedy said she'd done "very important work" as a prosecutor and at the archdiocese.
President Trump on Tuesday formally nominated attorney Wendy Vitter to be a federal judge in New Orleans.