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Is the Edwards-leaning PAC spying different from Vitter's Royal Blend?
  // Tuesday, 27 October 2015 16:31 //

camera-vitterThis summer, I attended an event and saw a man shooting video of a small group of people talking with Jon Bel Edwards.  In my opinion, this man was standing behind Edwards capturing the private conversations of those talking with Edwards.  I saw this occur twice.  This man, who I later discovered, is named Josh, ultimately told me which PAC he worked for and I wrote about the issue.  The PAC is associated with the Vitter campaign, because the Vitter campaign was paying the PAC and the tracker Josh a total of $8,000 per month since early 2015.

 In that column, I said that I thought that what was being done was illegal—that is, you cannot intercept audio conversation unless the people involved know that the interception is occurring.  Also, if the recorded people have a reasonable expectation of privacy their conversations should not be recorded, otherwise, the activity could be unlawful.

At the time writing the article, I also noted that upon my request, the Vitter campaign sent to me a picture of someone shooting video of David Vitter being interviewed.  That picture showed a man, who I will identify as a “WWL and Lafayette tracker”, in public, taking a video of WWL interviewing Vitter.  I asked the Vitter campaign for evidence that this tracker had shot video of private conversations.  I did not receive a response.   

Fast forward to Friday.

It has been reported in the media that the Vitter campaign paid an investigator $130,000 for various services and on Friday, at a Metairie coffee shop Royal Blend, the paid-investigator got caught capturing the conversations of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff, Newell Normand, others and more importantly, a large contributor and business associate of Jon Bel Edwards.

The man involved, once confronted, ran and was later arrested for trespassing onto various properties and for criminal mischief, as he tried to escape being questioned.

I discussed this yesterday.  I believe, assuming these facts are true, the notion that this investigator was procured to capture private conversations Vitter is simply unconscionable, and criminal charges should be pursued. 

Yesterday evening, I received an email from the Vitter campaign asking me to investigate what they consider to be a similar situations.

This is the email:

“FYI - the attached picture is of a "tracker" assisting the John Bel Edwards campaign. The firm he works for is called the American Bridge PAC. He was filming private citizens having private conversations at a restaurant in Lafayette this evening that Sen. Vitter was also at. It remains to be seen whether or not he will be arrested, jailed, and have his phone and car searched. However, by John Bel Edwards standards, this is "Nixonian" political spying. I expect major breaking news.”

I was provided an image of the person filming private conversations.  Keep in mind, shooting video is not an issue.  Recording audio, whether with video or otherwise is.  Shooting and capturing the audio part of a conversation of people not knowing it is being done, has been the focus of my columns.

I made a number of inquiries to the Vitter campaign for more information about the incident, called the Lafayette restaurant, contacted the person I thought was in charge and came up with nothing. 

Ironically, last night, I then received an email from an associate, out of the blue, from someone who was at the event.  This person was able to confirm the incident but could not provide any real facts.

I discussed the facts as I knew them with Jeff Crouere on his radio show this morning

This afternoon, right before publishing an article disclosing the lack of facts, I found evidence.  The video taken by the WWL-Tracker, posted on a website of the PAC reportedly responsible for the tracking.  .

While the PAC entitles the video, Vitter harasses tracker, I would rename it.  More precisely, it should be “Tracker intrudes and shoots unwanted video”.  

Looking at the video, one can easily argue that Vitter saw the tracker and did not respond.  We have no idea who knew of his presence although it looks like the gentleman talking with Vitter saw the tracker with camera shooting away.

We also know that Vitter talked with the tracker.  As to the Vitter campaign’s inquiry, why was the car investigated, referring to the Royal Blend incident where the Royal Blend Tracker’s car was searched revealing a dossier of some sort on a local blogger investigating Vitter’s alleged prostitution incident.  So, don’t blame the media for not sweeping the Lafayette’s tracker’s car.  Had the authorities been called, as I now wish they would have been, who knows what they would have discovered.

TWO TYPES OF TRACKING INCIDENTS

For purpose of this column, there are two different types of tracking incidents.  In my view, both are repugnant.  Both raises questions of criminal culpability.  One is worse than the other.  Far worse.

The first type, I am calling the “casual tracker”

That is the situation that I first wrote about and the incident that occurred last night in Lafayette at the Vitter Fundraiser.  That is when a tracker hired by someone goes to events with camera, and now, extension pole or even simply a tri-pod, and starts shooting the candidate talking with others.

Again, in my view, shooting any conversation without all of those involved in the conversations aware or made aware that audio of the conversation would be intercepted could be against Louisiana’s law.  To me, this practice is quite distrubing and candidates should publicly make it known that they do not want to be associated with such practice. 

Then, there is the second situation which I will call the “Unknown Secret Investigator”

That is the Royal Blend incident.  It involved the recording of people sitting around the table or their congregating somewhere and a device is secretly recording. 

The investigator paid by Vitter campaign was not walking around with a camera or camera and tripod which is what our tracker Jason and Lafayette Restaurant guys were doing.  They are a lot more sneaky and despicable.

While there are some conservatives and perhaps the Vitter campaign who are trying to claim they are equivalent, it simply boggles the mind that anybody would make such a claim. 

Knowing and seeing somebody recording, or having the opportunity to see that somebody is recording is simply not the same as a snake hiding in the grass capturing worms.

Also, in the Royal Blend situation, the man, once questioned, ran out of the coffee shop, hopped over fences preventing from being caught and was ultimately apprehended.  When our Lafayette tracker was asked to leave, he did so quietly.

I know the Vitter supporters reading the blog feel the whole spying controversy is no big deal and by the way, the other side is doing the exact same thing, so there--.

I know that Senator Vitter called the Royal Blend incident “silly”, although I have no idea why his campaign would spend $130,000 for investigation including paying for this Royal Embarrassment incident for something ""silly".  

I know that Senator Vitter said that this Royal Blend character was not spying, was not wiretapping anyone.  In a WDSU interview, he simply laughed, dismissed the incident by saying about the investigator, “he was in a coffee shop”—as if, he wasn’t doing anything at all. (http://wdsu.com)

Let us be clear, there is absolutely no moral equivalence between the two types of tracking—if you even want to call the second one that. Notwithstanding Vitter’s protestations, I call it spying.  The Vitter spy was casing out the blogger Jason B. Berry.  Also, there is hardly any difference between a bugging device recording a conversation and a device being presented as a phone--recording others’ private conversations. The intent of a bug and that of this Vitter Campaign-paid-investigator’s device was to gather dirt about something and someone.  It surely was not to sip coffee.

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