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March 11, 2008

Spitzer's Nixonian hubris

Scott Horton suggests that the Bush Justice Department has bagged itself another Democratic governor.

There are two emerging schools of thought as to the sequence of events that lead to Spitzer's downfall. Recall that the Emperor's Club was a major international prostitution ring that was brought down with much fanfare last week.

Theory A is that Spitzer was exposed because of the Emperor's Club bust. Theory B is that Spitzer inadvertently lead investigators to the Club because he was already being watched for "suspicious" financial transactions:

The suspicious financial activity was initially reported by a bank to the IRS which, under direction from the Justice Department, brought kin the FBI's Public Corruption Squad.

"We had no interest at all in the prostitution ring until the thing with Spitzer led us to learn about it," said one Justice Department official.

Spitzer, who made his name by bringing high-profile cases against many of New York's financial giants, is likely to be prosecuted under a relatively obscure statute called "structuring," according to a Justice Department official. [ABC]

In other words, a banker noticed that Spitzer was making a number of transactions just below the $5,000 reporting threshold. That's a red flag for bankers because the account holder might be deliberately structuring transactions in order to evade reports that might draw attraction to other illegal activities. This kind of "structuring" can itself be a crime, if transactions are broken down into smaller chunks in order to facilitate money laundering.

If Theory B is right, those "suspicious transactions" represented Spitzer's attempts to hide his payments to the very high-priced escort service.

As the Attorney General of New York, Spitzer crusaded against corporate crime, including abuses in the banking industry. He also helped bust some prostitution rings in his time.

Spitzer has absolutely no excuse. In the current political climate, selective prosecution is a fact of life. If the White House has some reason to dislike you, and you break the law, they will take you down hard.  Assuming you give them enough ammunition to bust you fair and square, you will deserve it, too. Both for being a criminal and for being stupid--not to mention for betraying everyone who trusted you to stay out of trouble long enough to effect real change.

Never mind whether the average rich, powerful white guy could get away with what you did. When you take on the establishment, you forfeit a certain amount of male privilege. Reformers have to make sacrifices.

I'm assuming for the sake of argument that the Justice Department played by the rules.  If it turns out that they subjected Spitzer to inappropriate scrutiny or violated his rights in some way, then they too must be called to account.

The fact is, Spitzer is intimately familiar with wiretaps and he has more enemies in the banking industry than any man alive. He should have known better.

It's a cliche to criticize a politician's judgement when you're mad at him but you can't summon sufficient moral outrage about his behavior. But this time it's entirely appropriate to raise questions about Spitzer's fitness to lead on the basis of his colossal hubris.

Regardless of what you think of the morality of paying for sex, and irrespective of whatever understanding Mr. and Mrs. Spitzer might have had... Eliot Spitzer was a self-indulgent fool to think that he could arrange for sex over the telephone and move his money around to cover it! (...in an election year, as the Dems were poised to take back the State Senate, on the heels of the State police intel scandal...)

Spitzer displayed a Nixonian level of hubris. If he thinks the rules don't apply to him, he shouldn't be in power.

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» It's not about the sex from Lance Mannion
This blog is officially a No Defending Spitzer Zone. Because it's not about the sex. It's about headlines like this: Headlines that were entirely predictable the first time he thought about shelling out a couple of grand to hire a pro, when he should h... [Read More]

» Lindsay Beyerstein on Spitzer's Nixonian hubris from Sidelights
Lindsay Beyerstein on Spitzer's Nixonian hubris... [Read More]

Comments

Say it aint so, Elliot!

I'm starting to get so frustrated with the Democratic Party ...

I wouldn't be surprised if it was the banking thing. You flag that on the teller line, and it's going straight to the top because it's a governor. And gosh, who isn't a fan of Spitzer? The top in banking.

Whatever the facts turn out to be, and plenty of them hit the broadcast outlets last night, I think you have the ethical dimension of Spitzer's fall pretty well scoped. There really may be two sets of standards but as a high profile reformer he has to expect he will be held to the highest standard. It is hard to believe that a man who could run a complex corruption-busting attorney's office could be so stupid. No, not stupid, that would seem to excuse him to a degree. He knew what he was doing and how the system works. Yes, Hubris is the better description of the basic moral fault.

Assuming the facts bear out the charges I will give him slight points for not acting, as many of the busted republicans and a few of the bankers he brought down had, like he didn't really do anything wrong.

The talk of impeachment seems desperate though. If we can not even impeach a man who knowingly started a war based on fabricated evidence, got people killed and seriously damaged our economy, and just flat out ignores the constitution, then doing business with the oldest profession is hardly an impeaching offense.

I wish we had a unicameral parliamentary system within each state, and nationally. Less need for resignations in situations like this...you lose the confidence of the house...you're out. No fuss, no muss, nice and quick.

The talk of impeachment and demands for immediate resignation, particularly from NY Republicans, strikes me as being far more calculated than it is being given credit for in the press.

Currently, the NY Senate is close to evenly split, with a slight majority to the Republicans. The Lieutenant Governor has the tie-breaking vote. If Spitzer goes, the Democrat Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor, and looses the tie-breaking power, and the Republican majority would get to choose the replacement. This could make quite a difference, in the course of state politics.

I'd also like to know who clients 1-8 (and 10-100) were on that list - and if any were politicians with "R" behind their name. The problem of politically motivated investigations of Democrats is big enough that I'd rather not see Spitzer leave until that is sorted out - I think the danger of allowing these tactics to be successful is far greater than any danger from Spitzer staying where he is.

> I'm assuming for the sake of argument that the Justice Department played by the rules.

You're assuming quite a bit, there. We already *know* the DOJ isn't playing by the rules.

And the notion that reformers have to be better than the rest of us... it's attractive, but there's no logical reason behind it. We already don't have enough politicians working against corporate corruption; throwing one away because of this is just dim.

What a balanced, intelligent, rational take on the whole mess! Thanks.

This is mjfgates. I'm not going to trust the "Posted By" header, and this is why:

I popped in earlier and commented that "We already *know* the DOJ isn't playing by the rules." etc. However, that comment is showing up under the byline of "Ursula L". Directly BENEATH it, under my name, there's "What a balanced, intelligent, rational take on the whole mess!", which I did *not* write.

So, somethin' wacky is going on. Software issue? Typo by the moderator? I dunno, but something.

You're misreading. "Posted by" is a footer, not a header. Each post and comment has a pinstripe after the text, and a "posted by" footer under the pinstripe.

Then there's a gap and the next comment starts.

Your footers are associated with the right comments.

Excellent article. Thanks for writing and sharing it.

Reformers with less-assailable reputations last longer than those without: Spitzer could've remained active if he hadn't painted a target on himself. If you break the law, you can be caught. Lawbreaking aside, not everybody wants reform or agrees on its direction, some of those people inevitably feel attacked, and eventually (whether or not it's what happened here) some of those will themselves attack in kind -- and if stones are likely to be flung your way, it's safer not to live in a glass house.

Also, hypocrisy (lawyer/lawmaker breaking the law, busting prostitution and money-laundering rings yet doing those same activities?) tends to lower credibility, to say the least.

On Windows in Firefox, the comments' post-credit gap is small enough that the pinstripe can look like a dividing line between posts, which makes the footer's credit line instead look like a header for the next post.

I second the comments about hypocrisy. If Spitzer had merely been caught having an extramarital affair, it would have been personally embarrassing (and difficult for his family,) but it wouldn't have taken him down. But a prostitution ring? That's organized crime, and Spitzer's public attitude towards that kind of thing was one of zero tolerance. And he also can't claim that his political enemies entrapped him. No shadowy dirty-tricks specialist hired women to follow Spitzer to his hotel room to seduce him. The guy made all the arrangements on his own initiative.

I live in New York. I'm a liberal Green-Democrat. I'm pretty much libertarian regarding matters of sex among consenting adults. I voted for Spitzer. And I'm so pissed off at the guy that I have no sympathy for him at all. ($80,000 spent on prostitutes? I'm sure that most of the poor and blue-collar families in New York can completely understand that kind of sense of entitlement. Not.)

That doesn't in any way dilute my outrage towards the people who have done much worse, like starting a war based on faked evidence -- that's another matter entirely.

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