Lawyer questions whether Spitzer was set up, noting political prosecutions
Published: Tuesday March 11, 2008

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A prominent New York lawyer who has written for Harper's Magazine about the politically-motivated dismissals of US Attorneys in the Bush Justice Department says he believes there's a strong case that the fall of New York governor Eliot Spitzer was politically motivated.

Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap discussing plans to meet a high-priced prostitute in Washington, D.C. The news was first reported Monday afternoon in The New York Times.

Later that day, however, ABC News' Brian Ross revealed that federal sources said the prosecution stemmed from an investigation of Spitzer's finances -- not from the prostitution ring.

"The suspicious financial activity was initially reported by a bank to the IRS which, under direction from the Justice Department, brought kin the FBI's Public Corruption Squad," Ross wrote.

"We had no interest at all in the prostitution ring until the thing with Spitzer led us to learn about it," a Justice Department official told Ross.

Tuesday's Times added: "The rendezvous that established Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s involvement with high-priced prostitutes occurred last month in one of Washington’s grandest hotels, but the criminal investigation that discovered the tryst began last year in a nondescript office building opposite a Dunkin’ Donuts on Long Island... There, in the Hauppauge offices of the Internal Revenue Service, investigators conducting a routine examination of suspicious financial transactions reported to them by banks found several unusual movements of cash involving the governor of New York, several officials said."

"Because the focus was a high-ranking government official, prosecutors were required to seek the approval of the United States attorney general to proceed," they added. "Once they secured that permission, the investigation moved forward."

Horton doesn't buy it.

"Note that this prosecution was managed with staffers from the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice," Horton writes on his blog, "No Comment." "This section is now at the center of a major scandal concerning politically directed prosecutions. During the Bush Administration, his Justice Department has opened 5.6 cases against Democrats for every one involving a Republican."

In his post at Harper's, Horton notes:

(1) The prosecutors handling the case came from the Public Integrity Section.

(2) The prosecution is opened under the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910. You read that correctly. The statute itself is highly disreputable, and most of the high-profile cases brought under it were politically motivated and grossly abusive. Here are a few:

* Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson was the first man prosecuted under the act — for having an affair with Lucille Cameron, whom he later married. The prosecution was manifestly an effort “to get” Johnson, who at the time was the most famous African-American. (All of this is developed well in Ken Burns’s film “Unforgiveable Blackness”

*University of Chicago sociologist William I. Thomas was prosecuted for having an affair with an officer’s wife in France. Thomas was targeted because of his Bohemian social and his radical political views.

* In 1944 Charles Chaplin was prosecuted for having an affair with actress Joan Barry. The prosecution again provided cover for a politically motivated effort to drive Chaplin out of the country.

* Canadian author Elizabeth Smart was arrested and charged in 1940 while crossing the border with the British poet George Barker.

(3) The resources dedicated to the case in terms of prosecutors and investigators are extraordinary.

(4) How the investigation got started. The Justice Department has yet to give a full account of why they were looking into Spitzer’s payments, and indeed the suggestion in the ABC account is that it didn’t have anything to do with a prostitution ring. The suggestion that this was driven by an IRS inquiry and involved a bank might heighten, rather than allay, concerns of a politically motivated prosecution.

"The answer of the Justice Department to all this is likely to be: Trust us," Horton concludes. "This has nothing to do with Spitzer’s guilt or innocence. But it has everything to do with the fading integrity of the Public Integrity Section."