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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer, Sex, and Politics

Did politics play a role in the sex sting that nabbed New York Governor, and rising Democratic star, Eliot Spitzer?

Spitzer, who built his reputation as a straight-arrow prosecutor (focusing on Wall Street crimes and, yes, even prostitution cases), now looks like a colossal hypocrite. His political career also might be in tatters.

But numerous respected voices in the blogosphere are asking: Was Spitzer a target for a zealous and partisan Bush Justice Department? Some highlights:

* Scott Horton, of Harper's notes, that early reports had the investigation focusing on a prostitution ring, and Spitzer just happened to get caught in the net. But an ABC News account has the investigation looking at Spitzer from the outset. And that raises the question: Why was Spitzer a target?

Horton notes the curious role of the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice and the case's ties to an election cycle. This pattern, Horton writes, fits with what we have seen in Alabama.

In an even more curious note, Horton says the investigation was opened under the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910. This is the disreputable statute that was used against such notables as boxing champion Jack Johnson and actor Charles Chaplin.

* Larisa Alexandrovna of at-Largely asks some intriguing questions. The case against Spitzer evidently started when a bank noticed suspicious money transfers and notified the IRS. The concern was some type of public corruption, perhaps bribery. But the funds were going out of Spitzer's account, not into it. How would that signal bribery? And what about U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA), who was connected to prostitution in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans? Is the Justice Department pursuing a criminal investigation against him?

* Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake provides analysis of the legal issues involved. She notes that the DOJ evidently is trying to go after Spitzer for a relatively obscure crime called "structuring." When it looked like that wouldn't stick, the feds evidently went for money laundering. The whole thing, Hamsher writes, has overtones of the Don Siegelman case in Alabama--go after a Democrat and get him for something, anything.

* Nicolle Belle at Crooks and Liars raises questions about the bank and the Justice Department. Why did the bank tell the IRS and not Spitzer himself about the suspicious money transfers? He's a longtime client and the governor of the state. Wouldn't it make sense to contact him directly? And why is a U.S. attorney involved in a prostitution case? Isn't this usually a state or local matter?

* Closer to home, Mooncat at Left in Alabama has an excellent analysis, noting that Spitzer, Siegelman and other Democrats who get in trouble usually don't have an army of loyalists who immediately come to their aid. That seems to be a Republican specialty.

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