Ethics panel: Sen. Vitter undermined public trust

By LARRY MARGASAK | March 30, 2012 | 6:35 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate ethics committee says Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana undermined public trust last year by blocking a salary increase for the interior secretary.

However, the committee said Vitter's unprecedented action raised a new issue, making it impossible to charge the Louisiana Republican with rules violations.

Vitter blocked the increase for Ken Salazar when Salazar failed to issue six permits a month for new deepwater exploratory wells.

The committee, in a letter to Vitter on Friday, said that if Salazar had agreed to the demand, it would have appeared that he was complying in order to obtain a raise.

Salazar's salary remains $19,600 below the $199,700 salary of presidential Cabinet members.

The ethics committee said that any similar action in the future would be considered improper conduct by senators.