Monday, March 24, 2008

Timing is everything (maybe)

Fans of all things Spitzer, fasten your seatbelts. . . .

Three days after the Miami Herald posted a story about a letter sent to the FBI by Republican hit man Roger Stone regarding now former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s encounters with “high-priced call-girls” in Florida, the New York Times front pages a piece on Spitzer’s deeper-than-heretofore-revealed involvement with the something-less-than-scintillating scandal known to New Yorkers as “Troopergate.”

This all comes, of course, less than a fortnight after the “revelations” that linked Spitzer to a prostitution ring and forced him to resign the governorship.

I put “revelations” in quotes because, after all, what we are really talking about are leaks.

While the affidavit that triggered the arrests of four people involved with the operation of the prostitution ring did not provide the actual names of the johns, someone inside the investigation told the New York Times that the affidavit’s “Client 9” was Eliot Spitzer. That information came from a still anonymous source, and while Spitzer has not denied any of the allegations, no one affiliated with the government has confirmed the Spitzer-Client 9 link on the record.

The former governor has yet to be charged with any crime related to this incident, and likely won’t, since it now seems that the US Attorney’s office was simply using the information on Spitzer as leverage to force him to step down.

Further, the “revelation” that Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI last November comes from Stone’s attorney. No one at the FBI will confirm that they ever received this letter, and the specific party to whom this letter was supposedly sent is blacked out on the copy provided by Stone’s attorney to the Herald.

Stone—who has an “ick” dial that goes to eleven—claims that he met a prostitute at a Miami sex club who complained to him that she missed a chance to service Spitzer and had to pass him on to a friend. . . who then provided this prostitute with silly details (he keeps his socks on!) that she recounted to Stone. . . who in turn sent them on to the FBI. . . so that they could “confirm” the allegations.

Roger Stone, need I remind you, is the guy that had to resign his position as a consultant to the New York State Republican party last summer after he was accused of leaving a threatening, expletive-strewn message on the phone machine of Eliot Spitzer’s father. Stone denies this, but an investigation showed that the call came from Stone’s home, and most who’ve heard the message agree that it’s Stone’s voice.

Stone explained this by claiming that someone must have broken into his apartment and mimicked his voice while he was at a Broadway play. . . and if you aren’t laughing hard enough about that, I should add that it turns out that said play was dark on the night in question.

Now push that aside for a minute while we consider the “revelation” that Eliot Spitzer played a larger hand in “Troopergate,” which involves the use of New York State police to investigate whether State Senate Majority Leader, Republican Joe Bruno, illegally used state transportation for personal trips, and the leak of the information on Bruno’s misuse to the Albany Times Union by Spitzer aid Darren Dopp. Today’s story in the New York Times, which includes juicy—and I mean that literally—details about Spitzer’s level of anger (coffee shot from his mouth), is based completely on anonymous sources inside the office of Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

Yes, somebody leaked that Spitzer spits.

Confused? Yeah, well, I have some questions, too: Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, and why?

Why did the Feds target Eliot Spitzer, pursue the investigation through a warrant for a wiretap, and then take down that wiretap immediately after Client 9 was caught hiring a prostitute.

Why did someone in the US Attorney’s office leak Spitzer’s name to the Times?

Why did the leaker(s) decide to cash in this big chip now?

Why was Spitzer’s resignation part of the negotiations on whether he would be charged with a crime?

Why is Roger Stone suddenly going public with this letter that he allegedly sent to the FBI—especially when we already know that the investigation into the prostitution ring started at least a month before the date on this letter?

Why should we believe Stone’s story about how he got this information, or as to why he felt the need to tell the FBI a second hand story about something that is actually not illegal?

Why is someone inside the Troopergate probe leaking information from an ongoing investigation to the New York Times?

And, why was this source doing so less than two weeks after Spitzer’s resignation and/or three days after the Stone letter was published?

I have gone into some detail about the questionable motives of the federal agencies that went about digging up the dirt on Eliot Spitzer. As I have said, while I believe that Spitzer is guilty of stupidity, hubris, and hypocrisy (and had squandered his political capital while making few friends in State government), I feel fairly certain that he was targeted for takedown by a politicized justice system. But what to make of this weekend’s “revelations?”

Roger Stone (who—and I just can’t help but add this detail—has Richard Nixon’s head tattooed on his back) might have just spammed the Feds with dirt on Spitzer in order to ingratiate himself with GOP officials, or, he might have just faked a letter and released it for similar self-serving purposes. But one of the first things that occurred to me while I was reading the Miami Herald, and, later, New York Times stories, was that Stone’s tale of how he came by the information about Spitzer was a cover. I think it just as plausible that someone inside some part of the Spitzer investigation leaked the story to Stone knowing he’d have to tell someone—providing the Feds with a self-confirming feedback loop should other parts of the investigation come up short (remember that while the investigation of the prostitution link starts in October 2007, we only know of Spitzer being caught on tape in February 2008). (Lindsay Beyerstein also thinks Stone’s story is a bit hinky.)

As for the timing of Stone’s release, it is possible that it is just more self-aggrandizement, or maybe it reflects Stone’s annoyance that one of his bitter enemies, Spitzer, isn’t likely to be charged with any crime.

The timing of the Soares leak is more curious. This investigation is still weeks away from its completion. The news does partially exonerate Darren Dopp—who had previously taken full responsibility for the leak of the original Bruno information to the Albany Times Union—but the New York Times says that the leak comes from inside the investigation, and not from Dopp.

What good does this leak do now? Is there some advantage to be gained somewhere by pushing the Stone story off the top line? Does this leak reflect well or poorly on Soares (who had previously closed his investigation, only to reopen it when Dopp was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation)?

And where does State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo figure into all of this? Cuomo also had his eye on the governorship in 2006, and is considered by most state observers to have been on less than good terms with Spitzer. It was Cuomo’s initial probe into Troopergate that was supposed to put the issue to bed, but the casual method by which Cuomo conducted the investigation is part of the reason that Soares was compelled to open his inquiry.

I don’t have an answer for this last part, but the timing of the leak does bother me—as does the source.

And, while I’m on the subject of timing, I would be remiss if I did not mention a story brought to my attention by Alex Thurston. Alex sent me a link to this video, which points to an opinion piece penned by Eliot Spitzer and published in the Washington Post on February 14th of this year.

In the editorial, Spitzer accuses the Bush Administration of colluding with banks in the propagation of predatory sub-prime loans. As Spitzer concludes:

When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners, the Bush administration will not be judged favorably. The tale is still unfolding, but when the dust settles, it will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits. So willing, in fact, that it used the power of the federal government in an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general and anyone else on the side of consumers.

The most visible part of the collapse of the sub-prime sector and the investigation of Spitzer’s personal banking and sexual predilections, of course, basically run parallel. . . which is interesting. The authorization of the wiretap that linked New York’s former governor to a prostitution ring—the one that confirmed Client 9’s encounter with a call-girl in Washington’s Mayflower Hotel the night before the publication of Spitzer’s op-ed—well, that timing might be just as interesting.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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