Washington Post New York Bureau Chief
Tuesday, March 11, 2008 11:00 AM
Washington Post New York bureau chief Keith Richburg was online Tuesday, March 11 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the FBI prostitution probe that has snared Gov. Eliot Spitzer and may force him out of office.
The transcript follows.
Montgomery Village, Md.: Mr. Richburg, my understanding is that Gov. Spitzer has not been charged with a crime, but still could be. It seems that he likely would be using the little time he has (yesterday and today) to negotiate a possible deal that would avoid prosecution in exchange for his resignation. Perhaps he also "gives up" some others who also used this same "service." Should that happen, he would not lose his license to practice law, although his legal career prospects would be limited. If all that is true, it is not surprising that he did not already resign. Your thoughts?
Keith Richburg: We've heard much the same thing -- that he is now looking at his possible legal exposure, that might include concealing payments to a criminal enterprise or crossing state lines for prostitution purposes (the Mann act). But until he comes out and speaks again publicly, we are just speculating as to what he's doing now.
Spitzer Prosecuted: Although johns normally aren't prosecuted, what are the chances the U.S. Attorney prosecutes Gov. Spitzer to make an example of him? If Martha Stewart can spend time behind bars for her crime, why can't Spitzer be next? How often has the Mann Act been used to convict johns?
Keith Richburg: Good question as to what the U.S. Attorney might do, and unfortunately their office isn't tipping their hand. The Mann Act has been used against Charlie Chaplin and Chuck Berry, among others, so he would be in good company.
Washington: Two comments, basically. Regardless what I think of the governor or his alleged actions, are the standards so low that (some of) his supporters say he should not resign because others, such as Sen. Craig, didn't resign? Can't we have a higher standard than comparing people to others with low standards? Can't the accused decide on their own standards of ethics, guilt, etc.?
And, why, if you're not going to say anything, make a public (press conference) apology? Why say, publicly, that "I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violate my, or any, sense of right and wrong ... I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard that I expect of myself"? Unless you are willing to say "I did this" or "I did that" and "it was wrong; I apologize for doing it," then the public apology is simply a sham. Better the individual not say anything.
Keith Richburg: Interesting comments, so I'll just publish without comment of my own.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Why was anyone looking into Spitzer's financial transactions in the first place?
Keith Richburg: The IRS routinely looks at what it considers "suspicious" banking transactions and large, regular movements of money. In this case, when it was seen that large payments were moving from an account belonging to the Governor -- and going to what ended up being shell companies -- the agents notified the U.S. attorney's office. Apparently they suspected it might be a case of political corruption. Little did they realize...
Falls Church, Va.: Do we know yet who the other eight clients were?
Keith Richburg: We don't know -- and I'll bet there are some really nervous guys around today ... and maybe some wives now looking closely at the joint bank statements.
Detroit: In retrospect, was there any evidence or rumors among the media that Spitzer was involved with call girls?
Keith Richburg: Absolutely nothing that's come up yet -- that's why this story was such a shocker in New York. He was really seen as "Mr. Clean." We'll have to wait and see if anything else now comes out...
Baltimore: Is Joe Bruno the happiest man in Albany this week?
Keith Richburg: I'm sure he was doing his share of cartwheels down the Senate aisle.
Hampton, Va.: What's the penalty if Spitzer is convicted of soliciting prostitution and across-state-lines transport of prostitutes? Any chance he actually will face the music?
Keith Richburg: I'll have to consult a legal expert on the penalties, but I am told that the financial issues (concealing the payments, etc.) would bring more severe penalties than the prostitution. Whether he'll even be charged with anything is not known.
Spitzer: How do reporters keep a straight face when reporting on this story?
Keith Richburg: Darn, you can see my face?
Bow, N.H.: Where did he get the money? As I understand the facts, he only worked in the private sector for four or five years, and has been a government employee for the rest of the 20-plus years since he finished law school. I wouldn't think he could afford these kinds of rates on a government salary.
Keith Richburg: Spitzer's comes from a wealthy family. There was a bit of a scandal during one of his runs for attorney general, when it was revealed that his father had put of millions to finance his campaign. So the source of the money wouldn't likely be an issue -- unless it came from a campaign account!
Alexandria, Va.: Has anyone found "Kristen"? Any comments from her?
Keith Richburg: I am looking far and wide...
If you are out there, Kristen, please e-mail me.
Louisville, Ky.: Without commenting on the actual allegations, I'd like to know more about the anonymous source ("a person familiar with the case") who identified Spitzer as Client 9. Were they part of the government investigation? A political enemy? Any more you can give us? I'd also like to know if this federal investigation dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts, or whether they perhaps took advantage of the warrantless spying that this administration uses so freely.
Keith Richburg: Our source was not a political enemy and was familiar with the case, and that was all the source would allow us to use in identifying him/her, so unfortunately that's all we can say.
And as far as we know now (and this is now), when the U.S. attorney realized that a high-ranking official was involved, they really followed procedure, which is to go straight to the U.S. attorney general for the okay to proceed.
Birmingham, Ala.: In regards to the other clients who used this "service," does it reason that it would take someone of similar significance to that of Gov. Spitzer to lead to his involvement with the group? I mean, the best marketing tactic for goods and services is word of mouth from someone you trust and respect. Thus, can we expect that someone of prominence and who is close to Spitzer likely will be implicated as well? I know that is a lot of supposition, but I'm just trying to predict what tomorrow's headline might read.
Keith Richburg: Good inferences, and I was thinking the same thing -- is the other shoe yet to drop? sounds a bit like the D.C. Madam case. Is there a little black book? Who are clients 1 through 8? And yes, usually the high-end gentlemen who use these particular services are referred by others clients, to ensure discretion.
Olney, Md.: Thanks to Hank Stuever for his hilarious article on Hotel Babylon. I too travel for work (returned from Southeast Asia yesterday), and like most women I like coming back to the hotel and "finding it all spiffed up and ... everything exactly where I left it." Seriously -- did the governor really think no one was going to stumble on this sooner or later?
washingtonpost.com: Hotel Babylon: For Men, A Promise Of Impunity (Post, March 11)
Keith Richburg: Back from Southeast Asia? I'm jealous!
And we love Hank Stuever.
Raleigh, N.C.: For Washington, the crime involved isn't the prostitution but rather the wire transfer across state lines to pay for the prostitution. This is what makes it a federal crime. As for the writer who asks why, it's simply because the size of the transfers naturally raise curiosities in the banking world. What's really amazing is that Spitzer should have known all of this.
Keith Richburg: Yes, you put it better than I did.
Safety?: Any indication what Kristen and the booker meant when they talked about how Client 9 liked to engage in practices that some of the women thought were unsafe? Is this story going to get even more sordid?
Keith Richburg: You picked up on that too, huh? I could speculate, but this is a family newspaper. We will try to keep it all above-board here. But that's the problem with this story for the governor -- people are going to start asking those kinds of questions. The New York press corps is relentless, and they are now totally focused on getting more details on this story.
Hampton, Va.: $5,000 an hour?! And this man is in charge of New York's economy?
Keith Richburg: Hey, we haven't seen or heard from Kristen yet.
New York: The local New York TV stations are declaring that Gov. Spitzer may resign as early as today. How does this press know this? Is there no presumption that he might try and fight this?
Keith Richburg: He may try and fight. I think he, his wife, and his inner circle are now trying to figure out the best path. But he's maintained his silence since that terse press conference. So we don't really know. He's an ambitious politician at the height of his power. Walking away is huge, and would ruin his career. And there are precedents for staying and fighting -- Bill Clinton being Exhibit A. One big question will be whether the prosecutors are considering bringing any charges.
Chattanooga, Tenn.: The articles on the Web mention many other leaders that have made the same error and not resigned; what are the chances that he would attempt the same thing?
Keith Richburg: See the answer above.
Tampa, Fla.: "May" force him out of office? He already has stated his mea culpa. Assuming that he did solicit prostitution -- and he wasn't at the Bunny Ranch in Nevada at the time (where prostitution is legal) -- he has committed a crime, correct? You commit a crime -- especially considering you are a former DA of New York city and the current governor of New York state (and legally should have known better, if not morally), you lose your job. Of course, he can make the argument that he's innocent until proven guilty, but in a roundabout way, he did confess, true?
Keith Richburg: Well, he never did confess to anything specific -- just that he hasn't lived up to his own standards and let his family and the public down. It was a very lawyerly statement that didn't actually admit to anything, if you read it word for word. Nothing that could be used against him as a confession.
Now tell us more about this Bunny Ranch...
Wall Street: Until yesterday, I had no idea the enmity Wall Street had for Eliot Spitzer. Why were some of his overzealous prosecutions not more covered? Didn't Spitzer cost Ken Langone of Home Depot his CEO job, even though no crimes were committed?
washingtonpost.com: Shock and Smirks on Wall Street as Longtime Foe Spitzer Squirms (Post, March 11)
Keith Richburg: Some of his biggest Wall Street busts were covered at the time. That's how he made his name, as the so-called Sheriff of Wall Street.
It's never too early...: I was struck by Mrs. Spitzer's resemblance to Jennifer Aniston, which got me to wondering: Who you think should play Eliot Spitzer in the miniseries or movie?
Keith Richburg: Hmmm, maybe Kevin Costner. Didn't he play Eliot Ness?
Troy, N.Y.: I remember seeing the Eliot-Spitzer-for-governor ads when I moved to New York. He talked about how on Day 1 it all changes, and how he was going to reform Albany, make it work for the people. That has not exactly happened. For those not following New York politics, his approval rating now is similar to Bush's, despite a Putinesque 69 percent gubernatorial victory a bit more than a year ago. Any speculation that his difficulties as governor led him to escort services, or was he doing this while busting prostitution rings as attorney general?
Keith Richburg: That's a question we'll have to see if we ever get answered. It's hard to believe, though, that you have a few political defeats in the legislature so you decide to start frequenting a high-end call girl service as a kind of therapy.
Olney, Md.: MSNBC just had breaking news that if Spitzer doesn't resign in 48 hours, the state assembly will start impeachment proceedings.
Keith Richburg: Yes, I had been hearing that from Republicans. But don't forget, they don't control the assembly (the lower house) and are hanging on by a thread in the senate. It's unclear what the Democrats would do.
Bethesda, Md.: Are any of Client 9's criminal prosecutions in jeopardy because of this matter? If I were someone who'd been sent to jail by this prosecutor, shouldn't I be given some leeway to reopen a case that had some questionable evidence?
Keith Richburg: Interesting question. I guess one of those people he busted in those prostitution round-ups as attorney general might be thinking of filing for a mistrial. Not sure how far that would go, though.
Massachusetts: What do we know about how the state police were involved in either knowing about it and/or hiding it? Are there other dates and hotel rooms? Do we think he put himself on the congressional committee witness list in order to justify the travel to Washington?
Keith Richburg: All good and important questions. We know as a governor he has 24/7 police protection. So the question is out there -- what did the troopers know and when did they know it? There were apparently other times he used the same service, from the words of Client 9 on the wiretaps. ("Yup ... same as always.") And what we have reported is that Spitzer was not initially scheduled to speak at the hearing, but suddenly decided he really needed to go to Washington at the last minute to give his views on insurance bonds.
Get the facts straight!: She got $4,300 for four hours, her train ticket, cab fare, hotel and room service/mini bar. So really it's probably like $1,000 an hour
Keith Richburg: Does that make it more of a bargain?
Plus there was the initial deposit sent to the hooker booker.
New York: Given that some of these women were charging $5,500 an hour, is there any chance that Gov. Spitzer might pursue the head of the Emperors Club for "excessive compensation"?
Keith Richburg: I think if he was not a satisfied customer, he probably could have found a cheaper service around.
My question is, who imports a call girl from New York to Washington?
Birmingham, Ala.: From the reports I have read, it seems as though Spitzer was a repeat customer of the "service." Have their been any rumblings about how long Spitzer has had a relationship with this "service"? Did he participate in this "service" while he was New York's Attorney General?
Keith Richburg: Those are the exact questions we are all asking now. ... I think there may be another shoe yet to drop here.
Anonymous: Why has there been so little focus placed on uncovering the entity that owned this prostitution ring? Isn't it fair to speculate that it is organized crime, and that by becoming one of its customers, Spitzer not only was putting himself at risk but also putting at risk the state of New York? By making himself vulnerable to blackmail, he made the constituents of New York State also vulnerable. So, Alan Dershowitz saying that it comes down to a man and a prostitute is just deceptive spin -- it has many more implications than that.
Keith Richburg: I had not thought of the possibility that he may have been opening himself up to blackmail, but it's an interesting thought.
I think more about the ownership of this service will come out at the trial (the four arrested last week I believe have all pleaded not guilty). But it seems like a fairly small, tight-knit operation run by email and cell phone.
Pseudonym: What is the background of George Fox, the name Spitzer used to register at hotels? All I've heard is he is a political friend of Spitzer's.
Keith Richburg: Fox is a friend/fundraiser for Spitzer, who seemed surprised when a reporter asked him if he had accompanied the governor.
Interesting, that only some of these call girls actually recognized Spitzer as Spitzer, since he'd be one of the most recognizable faces in the state. Guess they don't look at the newspapers much.
Should Washington Call Girls be Insulted?: Seriously, I wondered that too -- why import a call girl? Then again, why even leave New York -- is he going to blame it on Rudy's cleanup job in Times Square?
Keith Richburg: It's like taking coals to Newcastle. I don't get that part either. Maybe we should find some D.C. call girls for reaction.
I would suspect -- and this is pure, unadulterated speculation -- that as governor of New York, he couldn't just check into a New York hotel without being noticed. But in the District, he probably would not be easily recognized (except by real political junkies).
Arlington, Va.: What can you tell us about the current lieutenant governor, Paterson? Other than his coming from a prominent Harlem political family, I know nothing about him.
Keith Richburg: People I have spoken with like him a lot. He's legally blind, went to Hofstra law school, was in the State Senate (the first African American, I believe, but don't quote me), and the highest-ranking black elected official in the state.
"My question is, who imports a call girl from New York to Washington?": Maybe he remembered what happened to Marion Barry when he hired a local D.C. call girl?
Keith Richburg: Interesting comparison.
Maryland: Many cases like this come to the attention of authorities because of routine filing of currency transaction reports (required for movements of cash in and out of bank accounts totaling greater than $10,000 in a single day) and/or suspicious activity reports (filed when the customer looks like he or she is trying to avoid the currency transaction report, among other reasons -- and since "structuring" is what was mentioned in this case, that likely was the issue here).
Keith Richburg: Good summary.
Huntington, Ind.: You said he booked a trip to testify at last minute in Washington. If he set up to testify just to get the trip to book the prostitute, wouldn't that add misappropriation to the potential charges?
Keith Richburg: That's exactly what Spitzer's Republican opponents will be looking into, if he stays in office. They'll want to compare the wiretap prostitution transactions with his travel schedule. Then you start getting into the costs of moving his security detail around. It could get ugly.
Washington: My guess is that he just wanted to use one agency, and that's why he imported to Washington -- did not want to expose himself twice. I bet he knew who owned the agency, had them checked out and knew he could deal with them.
Keith Richburg: Good theory. Sounds right.
Olney, Md.: I get that a crime is a crime is a crime and that no one is above the law -- especially someone as sanctimonious as the soon-to-be former governor of New York; the comment about a link to organized crime is totally valid. But the American obsession with prosecuting prostitution still slays me. I'm infinitely more concerned with my tanking retirement account, the war in Iraq and women's rights in Afghanistan. Of course, this story is going to be a continuing source of amusement.
Keith Richburg: Well, there is an entire other debate about whether prostitution should be illegal (as long as it involves adults, no coercion, etc). I covered the story in the Netherlands when they legalized prostitution and brothels a few years ago, and the hope there was that legalizing it would remove the criminal element, and also allow girls who had problems with "johns" to go to the police, since they were engaged in a legal business. Also, the Dutch believe that if you legalize it, you can regulate it and go after those who traffick women and minors. It's a debate that's bound to continue.
Prescott, Ariz.: Do you think Spitzer will fight this with an "selective prosecution" argument or something of the like? Basically, because johns are not prosecuted like this normally, he can make the argument that he is being singled out unfairly because he has enemies in the U.S. attorney general's office. Sen. David Vitter skated on his prosecution, e.g.
Keith Richburg: I'm going to post this and the next comment, as you two seem to be talking in the same point.
El Paso, Texas: Sorry for the late post. Where I come from (I am a criminal lawyer) johns most certainly are prosecuted, and there are sting operations to catch johns who are charged with "prostitution" just as the prostitutes. I'm not for or against Gov. Spitzer but, were I his lawyer, I would worry about his Internet usage, as a motivation for prosecution and revival of the Mann Act.
Keith Richburg: Here's the second comment to that point.
Keith Richburg: I think that's an hour, folks. Thanks much for an interesting and lively discussion.
Keith Richburg: For all of you D.C. call girls out there, let us know if you have any reaction to this. And if anyone out there knows Kristen....
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