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Thursday, March 13, 2008


Elliot Giuliani

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, March 13, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
I confess that I didn't know much about Eliot Spitzer prior to his meltdown. However, I am rather disturbed by what I am reading about the way in which Spitzer used the power of his office for vendettas in a manner that reminds me of Rudy Giuliani.

Spitzer's weapon of choice was the Martin Act:

The purpose of the Martin Act is to arm the New York attorney general to combat financial fraud. It empowers him to subpoena any document he wants from anyone doing business in the state; to keep an investigation totally secret or to make it totally public; and to choose between filing civil or criminal charges whenever he wants. People called in for questioning during Martin Act investigations do not have a right to counsel or a right against self-incrimination. Combined, the act's powers exceed those given any regulator in any other state.
Now for the scary part: To win a case, the AG doesn't have to prove that the defendant intended to defraud anyone, that a transaction took place, or that anyone actually was defrauded.

Think about the implications of the bolded above (my emphasis). Where have we seen that before?

And then think about what we have seen happen in the present Administration when the Executive Branch is given unchecked power to prosecute without pesky burdens like proof or due process or other outdated notions.

How do you think Spitzer has wielded this power? Like Spiderman, under the maxim of "with great power comes great responsibility" ? Given what we now know about Spitzer's proclivities and judgement, not bloody likely. Case in point:

Consider the report in the wake of a 2005 op-ed in this newspaper by John Whitehead. A respected Wall Street figure, Mr. Whitehead dared to criticize Mr. Spitzer for his unscrupulously zealous pursuit of Mr. Greenberg. Mr. Spitzer later threatened Mr. Whitehead, telling him in a phone call that "You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done." Some months later, after more Spitzer excesses, Mr. Whitehead had the temerity to write another op-ed describing what Mr. Spitzer had said.

Within a few days, the press was reporting (unsourced, of course) that Mr. Whitehead had defended Mr. Greenberg a few weeks after a Greenberg charity had given $25 million to the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation -- a group Mr. Whitehead chaired. So Mr. Whitehead's on-the-record views were met with an unsourced smear implying bad faith. The press ran with it anyway.

In 2005, Mr. Spitzer went on national television to suggest that Mr. Greenberg had engaged in criminal activity. It was front-page news. About six months later, on the eve of a Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Spitzer quietly disclosed that he lacked the evidence to press criminal charges. That news was buried inside the papers.

How well did Spitzer's crusades fare in the mainstream legal system, though?

Most of Mr. Spitzer's high-profile charges have gone up in smoke. A New York state judge threw out his case against tax firm H&R Block. He lost his prosecution against Bank of America broker Ted Sihpol (whom Mr. Spitzer threatened to arrest in front of his child and pregnant wife). Mr. Spitzer was stopped by a federal judge from prying confidential information out of mortgage companies. Another New York judge blocked the heart of his suit against Mr. Grasso. Mr. Greenberg continues to fight his civil charges.

Worse than the zeal with which Spitzer persecuted his prosecutions, was the way in which he came to see himself as above the law, a truly righteous paladin on a crusade against evil, defined as everyone else. John Fund writes in an oped in the wapo:

Mr. Spitzer seemed to excel only in the zeal with which he would go after perceived adversaries. Last summer, his staff infamously used the state police to track the movements of Joe Bruno, the Republican president of the state senate, in an effort to destroy his career. Mr. Spitzer then ferociously fought investigators who wanted to examine his office's email traffic for evidence the governor himself may have been involved. His approval rating in New York, a strongly Democratic state, fell to 27%.

And this, most tellingly of all:

Mr. Spitzer cloaked his naked devaluation of the rule of law with gauzy rhetoric that was perfectly pitched to make many liberals ignore his strong-arm tactics. He harshly criticized advocates of judicial restraint such as Antonin Scalia as believing in "a dead piece of paper." In a Law Day ceremony, Mr. Spitzer was blunt: "I believe in an evolving Constitution. . . . A flexible Constitution allows us to consider not merely how the world was, but how it ought to be."

That chills me. A dead piece of paper? How the world ought to be? We have here a man who sees the rule of law as nothing more than a tool to be wielded as necessary, and ignored when inconvenient.

The analogy to Rudy Giuliani is rather strong. Giuliani was also a zealous (new york) prosecutor, convinced of his righteousness. We all rightly shudder at the thought of how close we came to the authoritarian nightmare of a 9iu11ani presidency, which would have made the Bush Administration look like the ACLU. But because Spitzer had that (D) after his name, we looked the other way, it seems. I know I did. And I shudder to think that this guy was one of our top bench picks for president? Thank god he flamed out. and good riddance.



yeah, i suppose if you're going to gang up on the guy with facts, of course he's gonna look like he's been blowing smoke all this time. but just look at his chin, i mean, it's presidential.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.