WASHINGTON -- Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) raised eyebrows on Thursday when he questioned Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko about his alleged mistreatment of women, claims that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) dismissed as baseless and politically motivated. Vitter -- whose longtime aide resigned last year after a news report disclosed he had been arrested for attacking his ex-girlfriend with a knife -- was particularly concerned with the accusation that Jaczko had once, in a particularly stern meeting, made a woman leave in tears.
In a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Vitter said he was "very concerned" about reports that Jaczko had allegedly made a woman cry. The accusations against the chairman come as part of a broader attack, which Boxer on Thursday referred to as "appalling" and a political "witch hunt."
The attempted coup on Jaczko by his fellow commissioners became public on Friday after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released an October missive airing the commission's internal disputes. In that letter to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, the commissioners said they had "grave concerns" about the chairman's leadership. In a Wednesday hearing held by Issa's Oversight and Government Committee, the commissioners accused Jaczko of "outbursts of abusive rage," with commissioner William Magwood -- who's next in line for Jaczko's gavel -- charging in written testimony that the chairman had once made a woman leave his meetings in tears.
Boxer, whose staff had spoken to women at the NRC who defended Jaczko, mocked Magwood's accusations as "McCarthyist," joking she had "a list of three women in my pocket." No women were ever named and no details of the anonymous women's alleged mistreatment was ever revealed.
Still, Vitter on Thursday took up Magwood's line of attack.
"Did you ever have an exchange with staff that led to the involved staff breaking down in tears?" he asked Jaczko pointedly.
"Not that I know of, no," Jaczko said.
Flashback one year when Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado told media outlets that Vitter was aware of and had "concerns" about the 2008 incident in which his aide Brent Furer allegedly threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend, cutting her neck and placing his hand over her mouth. Furer continued to work in Vitter's office until 2010, when the attack become public knowledge.
Now fast forward to Thursday's hearing, where Vitter pressed Jaczko on the crying allegation.
"Did you have such an exchange that led to their breaking down in tears shortly thereafter outside of your presence?" Vitter asked.
"I only learned of the possibility of these events in the last several days, prior to the hearing yesterday," Jaczko said. In fact, Jaczko said, Magwood's testimony is the first he's heard of such complaints. Jaczko has never had any staff come to him with these concerns, he said in his testimony.
"Well," Vitter said, "if they were driven to tears you might understand why they might not approach you."
Vitter's aide had worked in the senator's Washington office for five years, handling, among other things, women's issues.
HuffPost's Ben Craw puts Vitter's inquiry in context: