We were startled when we learned over the summer that Eliot Spitzer—or, perhaps, one of his hand-picked deputies—was allegedly using the state police to gather information on his political opponents and then leaking it to the press. It seemed like a story out of an Eastern European totalitarian state—something that we only expected to hear about in a Tom Stoppard play and not the pages of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Post.
But we probably shouldn’t have been startled. It’s been obvious for years right there in Spitzer’s record over the years—hidden in plain sight, as it were. It was easy to become distracted by the deeds of—and the unsourced, anonymous smears against—the folks who Spitzer targeted. But now that the fires of the turn of the century have been extinguished, the smoke is finally clearing. And the guy who was fanning those flames is looking more and more tarnished.
[More after the jump.]
Take another look at the story from Charlie Gasparino’s King of The Club that made Page Six today. Page Six concentrates on the salacious details of the Spitzer’s suspicions of extra-marital affairs because, well, it’s Page Six. Our question is: why the heck was Avi Schick, Spitzer’s head of nonprofit investigations, asking Grasso about his relationship with another woman. What on earth did this have to do with the investigation into Grasso’s management of the then nonprofit New York Stock Exchange?
The answer is: probably nothing. Spitzer was playing prosecutorial hardball—or, rather, spit-ball. He was threatening to smear Grasso with allegations which—regardless of their truth—would be personally painful and publicly embarrassing. And he was doing this in an effort to get Spitzer to either fall victim to the Clinton Trap—lying about a personal matter while under oath—or to confess to entirely unrelated allegations in hopes of keeping these other matters out of the press.
Perhaps it’s unfair to characterize this as a personal failure of Spitzer and his lieutenants. It may be that granting prosecutors with such vast powers of investigation coupled with the threat of draconian prison sentences, has created a monstrous office that exercises a diabolical power over those who hold it. But there can be little doubt about the monstrosity of it, and the need—the desperate, urgent need—to reform the way our society deals with the misdeeds, frauds and failures—real and imagined—of businessmen.