Well, it’s official. Michael Garcia, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), exercised a political hit on the then Democratic Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer. On November 6, 2008, after a 16 month investigation, Garcia announced that the government had no case against Spitzer. How surprising.
The story began back in July 2007 when two banks (North Fork and HSBC) that Spitzer had had run ins with as New York Attorney General reported “suspicious” money transfers involving Spitzer who became Governor of New York on January 1, 2007. This led to a prostitute service Emperors Club VIP. Now while Emperors was laundering money, Spitzer wasn’t. And whether you agree with this or not, it is extremely unusual for this type of investigation to target johns, and even more unusual to target one john in particular, as happened here.
On March 10, 2008, Spitzer’s involvement with high priced prostitutes became public. Two days later on March 12, 2008, he announced his resignation as Governor. The prostitute story had been leaked from Garcia’s office and was based on Grand Jury testimony. The first is a violation of department rules, the second of federal law. Garcia, a protégé of Michael Chertoff, held out the possibility of a prosecution of Spitzer under the Mann Act. This 1910 law prohibits the transport of women across state lines for “immoral” purposes. Spitzer saw one prostitute on a trip to Washington, DC. The Mann Act has been used in the past to harass controversial figures, such as heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson in 1920 and Charlie Chaplin in 1944. Nowadays it is prescribed by the federal Attorney’s Manual only if there is an aggravating factor, such as underage children or kidnapping, involved. In Spitzer’s case, there was no aggravating factor.
As New York’s Attorney General, Spitzer made his reputation aggressively taking on Wall Street interests. His real effectiveness in reforming the Street is debatable, but it is clear that he was hated there. That two banks he had won cases against reported him, that a Republican US Attorney Michael Garcia committed major resources into a long term investigation of him in the absence of a prosecutable crime, or even the anticipation of finding one, that the story broke on the basis of a leak that could only have come from Garcia’s office (and let’s face it either with Garcia’s knowledge or implicit consent), and that Garcia pulled the plug on his investigation two days after the November elections, all indicate a vendetta, a politically motivated one on the part of Garcia.
Now make no mistake, I have no sympathy for Spitzer or with whom he has sex. His behavior was stupid and hypocritical, perhaps not in the way that “family values” Republicans like Mark Foley (item 20), David Vitter (item 214), and Larry Craig (238), were, but his actions ran counter to his public image as a “reformer” and straight arrow which had won him the governorship. My real problem is with Garcia the US Attorney. Garcia used his office for political purposes, first in focusing on Spitzer and then leaking his name to the press. This was the business of a Larry Flynt or the New York Post, not the US Justice Department.