Hooked

Anatomy of a takedown in Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.

The fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in 2008 provided a smorgasbord of Schadenfreude on which his many detractors were delighted to feast. Spitzer, who had reveled in busting a big prostitution ring in 2004, when he was the state’s showboating attorney general, was himself driven from office by a call-girl scandal in which he figured as “Client 9,” a man who paid thousands of dollars an hour to engage high-end “escorts”—and, more deliciously yet, kept his socks on while being serviced by them. Following the ritual farewell press conference with his humiliated wife by his side, Spitzer slunk off into shamed seclusion while his most famous sex rental, one Ashley Dupré, became a talk-show fixture, a MySpace sensation, and an “advice” columnist for the New York Post. What was not to love about all of this?

Well, it is hard to have much sympathy for Spitzer, a distastefully abrasive political climber. But Alex Gibney’s new documentary, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, does him—and us—the service of situating Spitzer’s transgressions within the sordid political context in which they occurred. It’s not a pretty picture.

Upon becoming attorney general in 1998, Spitzer announced a crusade against white-collar crime, especially as it was then rife, he claimed, on Wall Street. He boldly targeted bankers and traders and the previously untouchable solons of such firms as Merrill Lynch and American International Group (AIG—later recipient of huge Bush Administration bailouts). These were dangerous people to irritate, but Spitzer gloried in his new renown as the “Sheriff of Wall Street.” “My job,” he said, “is to change the system.” As if.

Moving on to the political cesspool of Albany to become governor in 2006, Spitzer, a liberal Democrat, immediately butted heads with the state’s silver-haired Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno, a powerful Republican. At one point, in a scandal dubbed “Troopergate,” Spitzer engaged state police to keep records of Bruno’s comings and goings. Bruno was angered, but unintimidated. In Gibney’s film he says he told Spitzer to his face, “I been threatened by hoods and thugs all my life. You’re an amateur.”

Then began the fall. That same year, Spitzer started patronizing the Emperors Club, an online escort service that provided “the girlfriend experience”—classy prostitutes whose fees ranged up to $5500 a night. As he explains in the film, sitting uncomfortably through a Gibney interview, Spitzer turned to call girls as a preferable alternative to becoming involved in a romantic affair. He pre-paid for his assignations with money orders—more than $100,000-worth over the course of two years. His bank began to take notice, and, as required, reported the heavy activity on his account to the IRS. Soon the FBI moved in and set up wiretaps. Somehow, The New York Times got wind of the feds’ findings and went to press with them. Spitzer was nailed.

Gibney, who previously charted corporate corruption with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, makes a persuasive case that government Republicans, in collusion with vengeful Wall Street titans (presumably not liberal Democrats), conspired to bring Spitzer down in the most embarrassing possible way. His antagonists are presented as fairly scary guys, especially former AIG boss Hank Greenberg, onetime New York Stock Exchange Director Kenneth Langone, and the flamboyant lobbyist and fixer Roger Stone (himself a devotee of strippers and swingers’ clubs). Gibney makes Spitzer seem prescient about the high-finance scammery that would soon lead to a national economic meltdown. And he brings in some unusual talking heads to provide commentary, to varying effect: Cecil Suwall, the giggly young CEO of the Emperors Club, is the film’s most winning presence; but hiring an actress to mouth the transcribed words of one of the company’s escorts—a Spitzer favorite called “Angelina” here—has a dodgy feel; and what he was thinking when he solicited the thoughts of Karen Finley, the erotic performance artist of the 1990s, is anybody’s guess.

The most pressing question the film elicits, though, is why the government should still be allowed to use anti-prostitution laws to harass citizens who are doing no one (or in Spitzer’s case, no one beyond themselves) any harm. Eliot Spitzer was never charged with any crime, but he was destroyed anyway. It’s hard to say how much he’ll be missed. (“He was gonna be our first Jewish president,” a friend muses wistfully.) But judging by his current embarrassing gig as a CNN talk-show host, missing is what he’ll continue to be from the cutthroat political action in which he once made his name—which is now, and probably forever, mud.  

Kurt Loder is a writer, among other things, embedded in New York.

Find this and hundreds of other interesting books at the Reason Shop, powered by Amazon.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    If we had a justice system, then Spitzer wouldn't have been in trouble for hiring the hooker per se, but rather for multiple counts of aggravated hypocrisy.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Fucking a. Thread over.

  • ||

    “He was gonna be our first Jewish president,” a friend muses wistfully.

    I'm pretty sure you still can't be Jewish and you definitely can't be bald.

  • Ragin Cajun||

    He should grow some facial hair and go for the trifecta.

  • Mike Dukakis||

    Those were my eyebrows!

  • Old Mexican||

    At least he chooses his hookers well.

    By the way, now that his wife is single . . . and the woman is a looker . . . Hmmm.

  • Anonymous||

    Meh...

  • Old Mexican||

    "She's rich!"
    "Growl - growl - growl"
    "Rich?"

  • Anonymous||

    I think I understand what you're trying to say.

  • marlok||

    She looks intoxicated in that picture above with Spitzer sucking his face in.

    She is pretty good looking, and maybe she likes to party.

  • zoltan||

    She has the makings of turkey gizzards. But you're old too.

  • Old Mexican||

    Upon becoming attorney general in 1998, Spitzer announced a crusade against white-collar crime, especially as it was then rife, he claimed, on Wall Street.

    Read: He announced he was going to place people in kangaroo courts for the "crime" of being "too" prosperous, as a way to burnish his career.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    ya. That. He should be in jail for his conduct as a prosecutor. The fact that he banged multiple hookers while he was married is just a minor moral foible.

    P.S. Fuck him.

  • ||

    I think they did...

  • Rhywun||

    He also devoted a large part his time to crusading against smoking stealing legal deliveries from their purchasers, harassing Indians and illegally depriving them of much of their livelihood, and other assholery aimed squarely at filling the state coffers with tax dollars - a task which is not so far as I know part of the man's job description.

  • Tman||

    why the government should still be allowed to use anti-prostitution laws to harass citizens who are doing no one (or in Spitzer’s case, no one beyond themselves) any harm.

    So the film details the fact that Spitzer was a "distastefully abrasive political climber" who built his career on overzealous use of police tactics as "the sherriff of Wall Street" in both the AG and Governors office. I'm sure the film probably glosses over the fact that Greenberg has been vindicated in several courts of law as a victim of Spitzers grandstanding (there is circumstantial evidence that Greenberg wanted to stop AIG from getting involved in the sub-prime insurance business and Spitzer had him removed before he could do so, which eventually is what lit the powder keg of our financial collapse, but that's an antirely different story).

    How can anyone feel sympathy for a guy who was taken down by precisely the same sword he used to destroy so many others?

    Former hooker hater gets destroyed for using hookers. THE END.

    Where's my movie deal?

  • O Irony||

    Now he's a whore on cable TV!

  • sevo||

    I managed to overhear the gas-bag on TV in an airport lounge; he prattled on about how 'misfortune' was a great teacher.
    Lying sack of stuff.

  • ||

    I don't think you were a regular when Spitzer got nailed, but man did we have a field day. Enjoy this thread.

  • Tman||

    Thanks Epi, that shit was hilarious. I've heard about lonewacko and joe, but damn they were worse than I thought.

  • Paul||

    Ahh, good times.

  • ||

    fall brings a link past
    late winter threaded haiku
    its all epi can do

  • ||

    He went after some very powerful people. He didn't think they were capable of taking him down, especially when he provided the ammunition for his own firing squad?

    Yeah, he'd have made a great President....

  • ¢||

    what he was thinking when he solicited the thoughts of Karen Finley, the erotic performance artist of the 1990s, is anybody’s guess.

    Her last "dramatic text" was about Spitzer. Because nothing shocks the squares like dramatizations of entertainment magazine stories.

    There weren't clips of it in the movie? I'm surprised.

  • ||

    This hypocritical piece if shit is perfectly representative of the kind of human being who claws their way to the top of the political system in this county. You would think that any decent person would be ashamed to show his face. Shamelessness seems like the primary prerequisite for achieve stature and high office in this land.

  • 0x90||

    This hypocritical piece if shit is perfectly representative of the the only kind of human being who claws their way to the top of the capable of succeeding in a political system in this county.

  • Paul||

    His bank began to take notice, and, as required, reported the heavy activity on his account to the IRS. Soon the FBI moved in and set up wiretaps. Somehow, The New York Times got wind of the feds’ findings and went to press with them. Spitzer was nailed.

    Is it irony when a liberal Democrat gets busted by what are essentially "Know your customer" banking laws? I can never tell.

  • Paul||

    Gibney, who previously charted corporate corruption with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, makes a persuasive case that government Republicans, in collusion with vengeful Wall Street titans (presumably not liberal Democrats), conspired to bring Spitzer down in the most embarrassing possible way.

    What'd I tell you guys about the liberal blogosphere holding a conspiracy theory that Spitzer was an innocent babe in the woods who got set up the bomb?

  • sevo||

    Hey, they left out Elvis' alien love child.

  • Paul||

    Eliot Spitzer was never charged with any crime, but he was destroyed anyway.

    Define "destroyed". I'll take one year of Spitzer's income. Just one. What do I have to do to get it... sleep with a prostitute and keep my socks on? Kay.

  • ||

    What you'd have to do would be to be born with it, as Spitzer was.

  • nfl jerseys||

    Former

  • PIRS||

    Blagojevich /Spitzer 2012!

    At least we already know they are corrupt!

  • ||

    Having this dickhead out of the gene pool of presidential candidates was the best possible outcome of all this. Hopefully Huckabee will come stumbling out one sort of closet or another and we'll be spared having to even consider the possibility of his ascent from whatever the hell he is now.

  • PIRS||

    "his [Huckabee's] ascent from whatever the hell he is now."

    Right now Huckabee has a very-painful to watch weekend program on Fox News Channel. He thinks that he can play the guitar at a professional level and often joins professional musical groups he invites on his program. His guitar playing skills are passable, for an amateur they are good. But when he plays with a professional group it is obvious he is outmatched.

    Given his record as governor of Arkansas I certainly do not want him anywhere near the White House.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I thought he was a bassist. From what I heard (this was a while back), he was decent. If he's been rehearsing the songs on his show, and still not getting it right, that's one thing. If he's winging it and hitting a few blue notes, that's another.

    And I cannot think of anything else positive to say about that sack of shit.

  • ||

    Personally, I could hardly care less That he's was banging hookers on the side. Just don't be a damn moral hypocrite about it.

  • zoltan||

    Even moral hypocrisy I can waive--it's the...legal? hypocrisy. Being able to prosecute people specifically for the "crimes" that you are liable of as well.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Eliot Spitzer was never charged with any crime,

    Don't kid yourself. Or us.

    He wasn't charged after coming to the attentions of the feds because he was a prominent, connected individual. Had it been Joe Q. Random, they'd have charged him simply because they could've gotten an easy plea.

    but he was destroyed anyway.

    What goes around come around.

    Make no mistake about it, Spitzer would have charged anyone he caught in similar circumstances. We know because he did. And somehow, I think those people's lives were destroyed too.

    He can have my sympathy after he does something for those he unjustly punished.

    What is it with defending people like this whilst being happy to see their victim continue to suffer? Couldn't you even bother to write a few insincere words about them first?

  • Tman||

    I don't understand why Reason isn't celebrating Spitzer getting his deserved comeuppance.

    We should have some kind of Balko dance for something like this. Instead I'm supposed to feel sorry for him?

    W.T.F.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Gibney makes Spitzer seem prescient about the high-finance scammery that would soon lead to a national economic meltdown.

    Intervention into the economy was something that Switzer was all in favor of, and that played a huge part in the meltdown. He played on Joe Schmoe's ignorance of finance - "I don't know how it works, therefore, they shouldn't get paid so much for it."

    Switzer wasn't going after Wall Street because he foresaw problems arising from certain business practices, he went after them because he knew it was a way to gain media attention and populist support for his later campaigns.

  • emerson||

    You have no right to libel Barry Switzer.

  • really||

    Slobber, slobber, bone, bone, ahh, ahh

  • really||

    How much did he pay for a hummer?

  • ||

    Spitzer was an out of control, abusive prosecutor.

    The only reason this puff piece of a movie got made is because spitzer spent much of his career attacking business. Which made him highly popular among the usual suspects who hate business and love government.

    Kurt Loder would not look so gullible right now if he had spent some effort looking at spitzer's history as an abusive prosecutor.

    Why didn't the mainstream media expose Spitzer's abuses?

    Well, as the years pass from Spitzer's odious term as AG, additional information is beginning to filter out that indicates that Spitzer's abuses of power were every bit as bad as suspected.

    Details

    Why didn’t [the mainstream media covering Spitzer's investigation of Grasso] reveal the slimy tactics of the Spitzer squad?

    We suspect part of the problem was the fear of being “cut off” of access. Reporters compete for scoops, and often those scoops depend on sources who will leak information to them.

    In the NYSE case, reporters assigned to the story were largely at the mercy of the investigators, who could cut-off uncooperative reporters, leaving them without copy to bring to their editors while their competitors filed stories with the newest dirt.

    They probably felt—not unrealistically—that their very jobs were on the line.

    Playing bugle boy while government officials call the tunes from behind a veil of anonymity is not investigative journalism—it’s hardly journalism at all. It’s closer to propaganda.
  • ||

    Like most New Yorkers, I'm aware that AG Spitzer was a megalomaniacal thug-in-a-suit who probably would have perp-walked his grandmother if there was any hope of a headline in it. I didn't feel I had room to go into all that. I just wanted to note that, as delightful as Spitzer's crash-and-burn was, prostitution laws remain abhorrent even when used against megalomaniacs.

  • ||

    No one seems to find anything interesting in the fact that he prosecuted prostitution organizations, yet used them. Presumably he didn't try to go after the call girl service he used. So it could be said he was running a protection racket.
    Silda Spitzer, who is still married to him by the way (I suppose since Eliot's pa has a 500 million dollar fortune she is hoping she outlives Eliot and gets all that money) took a job working for a hedge fund. Wasn't that the kind of thing this hypocrite was supposed to have been Sheriff'ing out of Wall Street?
    Hypocrisy upon hypocrisy.......

  • Amakudari||

    First off, she's always worked in high finance. And secondly, he's completely powerless right now, so I don't know where there would even be a conflict of interest.

  • Amakudari||

    Eliot Spitzer was never charged with any crime,

    Don't kid yourself. Or us.

    Yeah, he committed a crime and acknowledged that fact. There's no denying it, so whether he was charged is irrelevant. I'd feel for him if he'd tried to get rid of vice crimes or minimize his prosecution of them, but he didn't do that.

    It's more like the opposite. He busted up prostitution rings, and the Suspicious Activity Reports provided to the feds by his bank were for the very sorts of financial transactions he looked into for money laundering.

    "This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multitiered management structure. It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring, and now its owners and operators will be held accountable."

    Hangman hanged with own rope and all that.

  • nfl premier jerseys||

    I pretty agree with what you have said.

  • tiffany jewellery||

    good topic

  • nike shoes UK||

    is good

  • قبلة الوداع||

    thank u

  • دردشة زين العراق||

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement