Spitzer broke law that he signed, I can't figure out what he was thinking

One would think that if Spitzer was going to a prostitute, he would be somewhat more circumspect in attacking others who were caught going to prostitutes.

From the NY Times on Spitzer:

And with his typical zeal, he embraced their push for new legislation, including a novel idea at its heart: Go after the men who seek out prostitutes.

It was a question of supply and demand, they all agreed. And one effective way to suppress the demand was to raise the penalties for patronizing a prostitute. In his first months as governor last year, Mr. Spitzer signed the bill into law.

Now the human rights groups, which credit him with what they call the toughest and most comprehensive anti-sex-trade law in the nation, are in shock. Mr. Spitzer stands accused of being one of the very men his law was designed to catch and punish.

“It leaves those of us who worked with his office absolutely feeling betrayed,” said Dorchen Leidholdt, director of Sanctuary for Families Legal Services, one of the leaders of the coalition that drafted the legislation.

The law, which went into effect Nov. 1, mainly deals with redefining and prosecuting forms of human trafficking, which Governor Spitzer called “modern-day slavery.” It offers help to the women who are victims of the practice, rather than treating them as participants in crime. . . .

From an editorial in the NY Times (emphasis added):

While few clients of prostitutes face criminal charges, law-enforcement affidavits raise at least the possibility of criminal charges based on transporting a woman across state lines for prostitution. Mr. Spitzer’s own record of prosecuting such cases gives him scant breathing room. As state attorney general, he prosecuted prostitution rings with enthusiasm — pointing out that they are often involved in human trafficking, drug trafficking and money laundering. In 2004 on Staten Island, Mr. Spitzer was vehement in his outrage over 16 people arrested in a high-end prostitution ring. . . .

Here is something from the WSJ about his tactics as a prosecutor:

He routinely used the extraordinary threat of indicting entire firms, a financial death sentence, to force the dismissal of executives, such as AIG's Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. He routinely leaked to the press emails obtained with subpoena power to build public animosity against companies and executives. In the case of Mr. Greenberg, he went on national television to accuse the AIG founder of "illegal" behavior. Within the confines of the law itself, though, he never indicted Mr. Greenberg. Nor did he apologize.

In perhaps the incident most suggestive of Mr. Spitzer's lack of self-restraint, the then-Attorney General personally threatened John Whitehead after the former Goldman Sachs chief published an article on this page defending Mr. Greenberg. "I will be coming after you," Mr. Spitzer said, according to Mr. Whitehead's account. "You will pay the price. This is only the beginning, and you will pay dearly for what you have done."

Jack Welch, the former head of GE, said he was told to tell Ken Langone -- embroiled in Mr. Spitzer's investigation of former NYSE chairman Dick Grasso -- that the AG would "put a spike through Langone's heart." New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly, who clashed with Mr. Spitzer in 2003, had her office put out a statement that "the attorney general acted like a thug."

These are not merely acts of routine political rough-and-tumble. They were threats -- some rhetorical, some acted upon -- by one man with virtually unchecked legal powers.

Eliot Spitzer's self-destructive inability to recognize any limit on his compulsions was never more evident than his staff's enlistment of the New York State Police in a campaign to discredit the state's Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno. On any level, it was nuts. Somehow, Team Spitzer thought they could get by with it. In the wake of that abusive fiasco, his public approval rating plunged. . . .

Here is something more from the WSJ:

Then again, Mr. Spitzer himself is intimately familiar with the prosecutorial tactic of dusting off old laws and repurposing them. When he became New York's Attorney General in 1999, he seized on the 1921 Martin Act and wielded it as a club against some of the biggest firms on Wall Street. The Martin Act was originally passed to facilitate the prosecution of "bucket shops" that took advantage of small-time investors, but its use became relatively rare decades ago. It should have been repealed.

However, the Martin Act was convenient for Mr. Spitzer's purposes because of the low bar it sets for bringing cases and the ability it afforded him to bring preliminary injunctions without even having to file a complaint first. Violations bring stiff civil and criminal penalties and, most important, do not require prosecutors to prove criminal intent. The law had been used primarily to pursue pyramid schemers, pump-and-dump operations and other unambiguous frauds, but Mr. Spitzer saw in it a way to exert enormous leverage over the Wall Street firms whose research practices he wanted changed. By using the Martin Act, Mr. Spitzer could more easily coerce settlements from his targets, who feared the law's low bar in court. . . .

As Mr. Spitzer knows all too well, the government has many weapons for pursuing its targets. The Governor now has to hope that federal prosecutors show more restraint than he ever did as Attorney General. . . .

What Spitzer was caught doing and how he was caught doing it is just like that how he caught others.

Spitzer of all people should have known that, said Miami-based lawyer Gregory Baldwin, credited with coining the term "smurfing" in the as a federal prosecutor.

"I think he's done enough cases where he's charged money laundering that he would know exactly what kind of information you get from the banks. It's such a perfect example of what goes around, comes around," he said.

By the time the scandal broke this week, Spitzer's financial transactions had been monitored, his phone calls had been caught on tape, and his actions had been scrutinized by federal prosecutors. It could have been straight out of the Spitzer prosecution playbook.

Minor note: Bill Clinton signed a sexual harassment law that eventually forced him to testify in the Paula Jones case. Of course, the response then was that it was all about sex (hint, surprise, that is actually what sexual harassment is about). The hypocrisy in Clinton's case didn't seem to matter. Possibly it won't matter in Spitzer's case. My own guess is that Spitzer is going to try to hang on and tough it out.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spitzer also wasted the FBI's time. FBI agents could have been out looking for the terrorists, rather than staking out his bedroom at the Mayflower Hotel in January and now leaking information about a criminal investigation to the press:

http://tinyurl.com/2jmtuh [WashPost]
FBI Watched Spitzer Before February Incident

3/12/2008 10:35 AM  

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