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Spitzer's Fate In the Air amid Prostitution Scandal


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Eliot Spitzer's fate as governor of New York remains up in the air. The crusading Democratic governor was caught up in a high-priced prostitution ring. Support for Spitzer is eroding. Three of New York's major newspapers are calling on him to quit. We have several reports, the first from NPR's Margot Adler.

MARGOT ADLER: Republican legislators in New York are already calling for the impeachment of Governor Spitzer should he not resign within 48 hours. James Tedisco is the minority leader in the New York State Assembly.

Assemblyman JAMES TEDISCO (Republican, New York State Assembly): If he doesn't resign, we have to do what we have to do to get this distraction out of the way so we can move forward and get a new leader in place.

ADLER: The New York Daily News editorial said today three words to the man: Just get out. The New York Post said, Eliot Spitzer must resign. The New York Times, while gentler, cited his arrogance and hubris, and said it was hard to see how he can recover from this mess.

But Paul Finkelman, a professor of law at Albany Law School in Albany, New York, said Governor Spitzer is clearly holed up with political and legal advisers trying to figure out what to do.

Professor PAUL FINKELMAN (Law, Albany law School): Does he ride it out?

ADLER: When I asked, does that even seem remotely possible? He replied...

Prof. FINKELMAN: I just keep thinking about President Clinton. And everybody said President Clinton was dead, and he clearly wasn't.

ADLER: The governor's legal situation is unclear. According to the governor's office, he has hired the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, one of the nation's largest firms. So what legal problems could he face? Generally, clients of prostitutes are not prosecuted. Eliot Spitzer was identified as client number nine by law enforcement officials. Spitzer allegedly paid $4,300 to a call girl, Kristen, to take a train from New York to Washington, D.C., for a tryst at the Mayflower Hotel.

The legal problem Spitzer could face might involve what is called structuring - concealing payments to disguise criminal activity. In this case, banks noticed odd transfers of money. These transfers were traced to Governor Spitzer and were reported to the IRS, prompting a political corruption investigation. No one suspected prostitution; only later did the Emperor's Club VIP come under scrutiny. So is transferring money to a shell corporation enough to do Spitzer in? Finkelman says there says there may not be much there.

Prof. FINKELMAN: He's moving his own money from place to place; I don't think that's a federal crime, even if it alerts the IRS that something fishy might be going on.

ADLER: There's also the question of whether the governor violated the Mann Act by paying a prostitute to cross state lines, going from New York to Washington, D.C. But some legal experts say no client has been prosecuted under the Mann Act for decades. Governor Spitzer has not been charged. There are four defendants charged in the Emperor's Club VIP case. Each could face five years on conspiracy to transport prostitutes across state lines.

But more than these legal questions, the one thing that makes it seem pretty evident that Governor Spitzer's political future may be over is that he promoted this image of Mr. Clean. And now, he is seen as hypocrite with no credibility. And, says Professor Paul Finkelman, think of his stupidity. It's incredible, he says, that a man with such knowledge of crime and the way crimes are uncovered…

Prof. FINKELMAN: …would allow himself to be involved in something that's this easy to trace, and this stupid.

ADLER: Meanwhile, we continue to wait while the governor ponders.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Margot Adler died on July 28, 2014 at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer. Listen to NPR Correspondent David Folkenflik's retrospective on her life and career