During last night's sophomore edition of Countdown on Current TV, Keith Olbermann featured an extended segment about Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filing an ethics complaint against Louisiana Senator David Vitter. But the man in the middle of the controversy is former Colorado senator and current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who CREW sees as a victim of attempted bribery by Vitter in relation to a potential salary bump.
In May, the Senate considered a pay raise of just under $20,000 per annum for Salazar in an effort to bring the top Interior post in line, compensation-wise, with other Cabinet seats. But Vitter wrote Salazar a letter, which he proudly posted on his website and hyped with a press release, declaring that he would block the dough unless the Secretary sped up the pace of deepwater drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico. Such permits had been put on hold following the BP oil spill.
Salazar responded by sending a letter to Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell requesting that the pay raise be taken off the table in light of an attack by "a Member of the Senate" who "has taken the position, in writing, that his vote on the issue is dependent upon the outcomes of his attempted coercion of public acts here at the Department."
Salazar added: "That position is wrong, and it must be made perfectly clear that his attempt cannot and will not affect the execution of the solemn legal responsibilities that the Department undertakes on behalf of the American people."
CREW executive director Melanie Sloan agrees. Yesterday, she sent a letter demanding an ethics investigation into Vitter's actions, which she described as textbook bribery on Countdown.
Olbermann supplemented the Sloan interview with flashbacks to previous Vitter issues -- including his link to a prostitution service back in 2007.
See the segment below, along with the Vitter press release and letter to Salazar, Salazar's subsequent letter to Reid and McConnell, and the CREW ethics complaint and supporting documents.
Release from Senator David Vitter's website, including letter to Ken Salazar:
Vitter will Block Interior Sec. Salazar's Pay Raise Until Permits Issued at Pre-BP Rate
(Washington, D.C) -- U.S. Sen. David Vitter today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announcing that he is holding up legislation in the U.S. Senate that would give Salazar a $19,600 per year pay raise. In light of BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich's recent admission that his department has only issued one new deepwater exploratory drilling permit since the moratorium was formally lifted in October, Vitter said that he will continue blocking the raise until Interior resumes issuing new permits at the same rate as before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"It's just my way of keeping the 'boot on the neck' of Interior until they get the job done. Surely the secretary can appreciate that approach," said Vitter.
Vitter emphasized that he is asking the Interior Department to speed up the pace of issuing new permits and will not count the reissuance of permits issued before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but later rescinded.
Vitter recently introduced 3-D: The Domestic Jobs, Domestic Energy, and Deficit Reduction Act of 2011, which would create more than 2 million jobs, $10 trillion in economic activity and $2 trillion in federal tax receipts (conservative 30-year estimates) by unleashing America's vast domestic energy potential.
The full text of Vitter's letter is below.
May 23, 2011
The Honorable Ken Salazar Secretary of the Interior 1849 C St., NW Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Salazar:
Last Friday, I was asked to support legislation in the Senate to grant you a nearly $20,000 salary increase. Given the completely unsatisfactory pace of your department's issuance of new deepwater exploratory permits in the Gulf, I cannot possibly give my assent.
The history behind your pay raise proposal and the insider support it may have here in Washington is irrelevant. Mr. Secretary, the fact is your polices and your department's mismanagement of permits is causing more Gulf energy workers literally to lose their jobs every day.
Your current pace of permitting is abysmal by any reasonable measure whether based on the historical pace, based on the unemployment rate along the Gulf, based on $4/gallon gasoline, or based on the President's claims to support domestic energy production.
In a moment of clarity and honesty, Director Bromwich testified last week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that of the 14 deepwater permits to drill that have been issued since the BP disaster, only one was for a truly new well. The other deepwater exploratory permits are actually reissuances -- they had been issued prior to the moratorium and then revoked.
Obviously, this one over the last three months (the period since deepwater permitting has reinitiated) is a pace well below the six per month issued prior to the moratorium.
Accordingly, when the rate of permits issued for new deepwater exploratory wells reaches pre-moratorium levels (so 6 per month), I will end my efforts to block your salary increase.
David Vitter U.S. Senate
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Ken Salazar letter to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell:
May 24, 2011
Honorable Harry Reid Senate Majority Leader United States Senate Washington, DC 20510
Honorable Mitch McConnell Senate Majority Leader United States Senate Washington, DC 20510
Dear Leader Reid and Senator McConnell:
I appreciate the good faith effort of Members of the Senate to make the salary of the Interior Secretary equal to that of other members of the Cabinet. However, I respectfully request that you set aside any effort to address this inequity.
At the Department of the Interior, our oversight and regulation of offshore energy production is and will continue to be guided by principles of integrity, the public interest, and much-needed safety and environmental standards. The public deserves nothing less.
These legal and ethical principles have always, and will always, guide me in all my work on behalf of the Department of the Interior. Yet, as the Senate has considered the disparity of Cabinet salaries relating to the Emoluments Clause, a Member of the Senate has taken the position, in writing, that his vote on the issue is dependent upon the outcomes of his attempted coercion of public acts here at the Department. That position is wrong, and it must be made perfectly clear that his attempt cannot and will not affect the execution of the solemn legal responsibilities that the Department undertakes on behalf of the American people.
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