Eliot Spitzer has been brought down for a crime most libertarians don't think should be a crime, by federal prosecutors who should not be involved even if it were a crime, and using techniques, such as enlisting banks as government watchdogs of private behavior, that stretch the Fourth Amendment almost out of recognizable shape. So why are we libertarians so happy?
He routinely used the extraordinary threat of indicting entire firms, a
financial death sentence, to force the dismissal of executives, such as
AIG's Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. He routinely leaked to the press emails
obtained with subpoena power to build public animosity against
companies and executives. In the case of Mr. Greenberg, he went on
national television to accuse the AIG founder of "illegal" behavior.
Within the confines of the law itself, though, he never indicted Mr.
Greenberg. Nor did he apologize.
In perhaps the incident most
suggestive of Mr. Spitzer's lack of self-restraint, the then-Attorney
General personally threatened John Whitehead after the former Goldman
Sachs chief published an article on this page defending Mr. Greenberg.
"I will be coming after you," Mr. Spitzer said, according to Mr.
Whitehead's account. "You will pay the price. This is only the
beginning, and you will pay dearly for what you have done."
Welch, the former head of GE, said he was told to tell Ken Langone --
embroiled in Mr. Spitzer's investigation of former NYSE chairman Dick
Grasso -- that the AG would "put a spike through Langone's heart." New
York Congresswoman Sue Kelly, who clashed with Mr. Spitzer in 2003, had
her office put out a statement that "the attorney general acted like a
These are not merely acts of routine political
rough-and-tumble. They were threats -- some rhetorical, some acted upon
-- by one man with virtually unchecked legal powers.
Spitzer's self-destructive inability to recognize any limit on his
compulsions was never more evident than his staff's enlistment of the
New York State Police in a campaign to discredit the state's Senate
Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno. On any level, it was nuts.
As I wrote before, the real crime here is that despite all his history, he was until two days ago a press darling labeled as "Mr. Clean." In reality, he has always been Mr. Abuse of Power and Mr. Personal Vendetta. I am happy to see him brought down, even if for the wrong reasons.
Update: A lot more here