No Comment — March 22, 2008, 3:01 pm

More Political Taint in the Spitzer Case

According to accounts that prosecutors and investigators have leaked to the New York Times and other publications, the Spitzer case was launched by a Suspicious Activity Report submitted by the North Fork Bank. Today, however, the Miami Herald ties the investigation to a tip furnished by the notorious G.O.P. dirty trickster Roger Stone.

Almost four months before Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal, a lawyer for Republican political operative Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI alleging that Spitzer “used the services of high-priced call girls” while in Florida. The letter, dated Nov. 19, said Miami Beach resident Stone learned the information from “a social contact in an adult-themed club.” It offered one potentially identifying detail: The man in question hadn’t taken off his calf-length black socks “during the sex act.”

Stone, known for shutting down the 2000 presidential election recount effort in Miami-Dade County, is a longtime Spitzer nemesis whose political experience ranges from the Nixon White House to Al Sharpton’s presidential campaign. His lawyer wrote the letter containing the call-girl allegations after FBI agents had asked to speak to Stone, though he says the FBI did not specify why he was contacted. “Mr. Stone respectfully declines to meet with you at this time,” the letter states, before going on to offer “certain information” about Spitzer. “The governor has paid literally tens of thousands of dollars for these services. It is Mr. Stone’s understanding that the governor paid not with credit cards or cash but through some pre-arranged transfer,” the letter said.

”It is also my client’s understanding from the same source that Gov. Spitzer did not remove his mid-calf length black socks during the sex act. Perhaps you can use this detail to corroborate Mr. Stone’s information,” the letter said. It was signed by attorney Paul Rolf Jensen of Costa Mesa, Calif.

This further develops Stone’s statement in an interview with Newsday in which he intimated prior knowledge of the investigation. The New York FBI office declined to confirm that it had received or acted on the Stone letter.

It is interesting and potentially significant that prosecutors have thus far suppressed all information about Stone’s involvement.

Obviously the involvement in the case of a well-known Republican Party functionary with a reputation for gutter warfare puts a far more political cast on the case against Spitzer.

The New York Times yesterday for the first time published an article that acknowledged the extraordinary nature of the Justice Department’s investigation of Spitzer. David Johnston and Philip Shenon write:

The Justice Department used some of its most intrusive tactics against Eliot Spitzer, examining his financial records, eavesdropping on his phone calls and tailing him during its criminal investigation of the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring. The scale and intensity of the investigation of Mr. Spitzer, then the governor of New York, seemed on its face to be a departure for the Justice Department, which aggressively investigates allegations of wrongdoing by public officials, but almost never investigates people who pay prostitutes for sex.

A review of recent federal cases shows that federal prosecutors go sparingly after owners and operators of prostitution enterprises, and usually only when millions of dollars are involved or there are aggravating circumstances, like human trafficking or child exploitation. Government lawyers and investigators defend the expenditure of resources on Mr. Spitzer in the Emperor’s Club V.I.P. case as justifiable and necessary since it involved the possibility of criminal wrongdoing by New York’s highest elected official, who had been the state’s top prosecutor.

This marks a strong shift in position in Justice Department explanations of the case, increasingly bringing into focus the fact that Eliot Spitzer was a target because he was Eliot Spitzer. The comparison of this case with the handling of the “D.C. Madam” case produces a very curious bifurcation. Eliot Spitzer is worthy of being a target, and the dedication of massive resources to nab him. But G.O.P. Senator David Vitter and Bush Administration Director of USAID Randall Tobias are not. What, other than the fact that the latter are Republicans and the former Democrats, provides the basis for distinction? This investigation increasingly looks like a political hit.

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