The WSJ weighs in:
[i]Spitzer’s Rise and Fall
March 11, 2008; Page A20
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.
Mr. Spitzer’s brief statement yesterday about a “private matter” surely involves what are widely reported to be his activities with an expensive prostitution ring discovered by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. Those who believe Eliot Spitzer is getting his just deserts may be entitled to that view, but it misses the greater lesson for our politics.
Mr. Spitzer coasted into the Governorship on the wings of a reputation as a “tough” public prosecutor. Mr. Spitzer, though, was no emperor. He had not merely arrogated to himself the powers he held and used with such aggression. He was elected.
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.
The stupendously deluded belief that the sitting Governor of New York could purchase the services of prostitutes was merely the last act of a man unable to admit either the existence of, or need for, limits. At the least, he put himself at risk of blackmail, and in turn the possible distortion of his public duties. 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.”
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.
Mr. Spitzer’s dramatic fall yesterday began in the early afternoon with a posting on the Web site of the New York Times about the alleged link to prostitutes. The details in the criminal complaint about “Client-9,” who is reported to be Mr. Spitzer, will now be played for titters by the press corps. But one may ask: Where were the media before this? With a few exceptions, the media were happy to prosper from his leaks and even applaud, rather than temper, the manifestly abusive instincts of a public official.
There really is nothing very satisfying about the rough justice being meted out to Eliot Spitzer. He came to embody a system that revels in the entertainment value of roguish figures who rise to power by destroying the careers of others, many of them innocent. Better still, when the targets are as presumably unsympathetic as Wall Street bankers and brokers.
Acts of crime deserve prosecution by the state. The people, in turn, deserve prosecutors and officials who understand the difference between the needs of the public good and the needs of unrestrained personalities who are given the honor of high office.
See all of today’s editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.[/i]