11 Mar 2008

A Villain Falls

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Daniel Gross reports rejoicing on Wall Street at the downfall of a power-mad hypocrite and demagogue.

The stock market may be battered, the dollar may be plunging, and the economy may be tanking, but there’s a bull market in schadenfreude on Wall Street this afternoon. Even as the Dow was on its way to notching another triple-digit loss, whoops of joy erupted from the dispirited trading floors today on news of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s disgrace. Spitzer, who rose to prominence as a scourge of Wall Street, uprooting corrupt practices, coming down hard on bad actors, and establishing a new moral order, was laid low by reports that he had been involved in a prostitution ring.

Details are still emerging, and it’s uncertain how this will all shake out, but one thing is immediately clear: Spitzer has been hoisted by his own petard, brought down by the same kind of investigation he pioneered as a prosecutor.

The Wall Street Journal editorializes today:

One might call it Shakespearian if there were a shred of nobleness in the story of Eliot Spitzer’s fall. There is none. Governor Spitzer, who made his career by specializing in not just the prosecution, but the ruin, of other men, is himself almost certainly ruined. …

In our system, citizens agree to invest one of their own with the power of public prosecution. We call this a public trust. The ability to bring the full weight of state power against private individuals or entities has been recognized since the Magna Carta as a power with limits. At nearly every turn, Eliot Spitzer has refused to admit that he was subject to those limits. …

Mr. Spitzer’s recklessness with the state’s highest elected office, though, is of a piece with his consistent excesses as Attorney General from 1999 to 2006.

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.”

The New York Post supplies the juiciest details of the scandal:

Wall Street traders cheered the public fall of a man who had taken special delight in bringing down financial titans.

Wiretaps revealed Spitzer haggling over the price of a hookup that took place at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, on the eve of Valentine’s Day.

The hooker, identified in the complaint as a pretty, petite brunette named Kristen, said she didn’t find “Client-9” very “difficult” – the word a madam had used to describe him.

Spitzer is listed as “Client 9” in the Indictment. .


LEWIS asked “Kristen” how she thought the appointment went, and “Kristen” said that she thought it went very well. LEWIS asked “Kristen” how much she collected, and ‘Kristen” said $4,300. “Kristen” said that she liked him, and that she did not think he was difficult. “Kristen” stated: ‘I don’t think he’s difficult. I mean it’s just kind of like . . .whatever. . . I’m here for a purpose. I know what my purpose is. I am not a . . . moron, you know what I mean. So maybe that’s why girls maybe think they’re difficult . . . . ” “Kristen” continued: “That’s what it is, because you’re here for a [purpose]. Let’s not get it twisted – I know what I do, you know.” LEWIS responded: “You look at it very uniquely, because . . . no one ever says it that way.” LEWIS continued that from what she had been told “he” (believed to be a reference to Client-9) “would ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe – you know – I mean that . . . very basic things. . . . “Kristen” responded: “I have a way of dealing with that .. . I’d be like listen dude, you really want the sex? . . . You know what I mean.”


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