The Lord of Regulation is unmasked as a dockside bully

110314spitzer8bsRegular readers of this blog are well-acquainted with my position that New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer’s tactics toward unpopular businesspeople are a grave abuse of justice and the rule of law, and this Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed is pretty darn good evidence that my view of Mr. Spitzer is right on target.

John C. Whitehead, former chairman of Goldman Sachs and current chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., wrote the op-ed about a Spitzer-initiated telephone conversation between the two men earlier this year. The telephone call was prompted by a previous WSJ op-ed that Whitehead had written in April entitled “Mr. Spitzer Has Gone Too Far” in which Whitehead expressed the following observation about Spitzer’s defamatory public comments about former AIG chairman, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg:

Something has gone seriously awry when a state attorney general can go on television and charge one of America’s best CEOs and most generous philanthropists with fraud before any charges have been brought, before the possible defendant has even had a chance to know what he personally is alleged to have done, and while the investigation is still under way.

According to Whitehead, the day the foregoing op-ed was published, Spitzer called him, and Whitehead describes the conversation as follows:

After asking me one or two questions about where I got my facts, he came right to the point. I was so shocked that I wrote it all down right away so I would be sure to remember it exactly as he said it. This is what he said:

“Mr. Whitehead, it’s now a war between us and you’ve fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter.”

I tried to interrupt to say he was doing to me exactly what he’d been doing to others, but he wouldn’t be interrupted. He went on in the same vein for several more sentences and then abruptly hung up. I was astounded. No one had ever talked to me like that before. It was a little scary.

Although understandable, it’s too bad that Mr. Whitehead was so taken aback by Spitzer’s bullying that he could not respond to Spitzer in a similar manner to the way that Sir Thomas More responded to King Henry VIII’s henchman Thomas Cromwell when Cromwell attempted to use similar tactics on him during a scene in the wonderful movie, A Man for All Seasons. After Cromwell made his threat, Sir Thomas initiated the following exchange between the two men:

Sir Thomas: You threaten like a dockside bully.

Cromwell: How should I threaten?

Sir Thomas: Like a minister of state. With justice.

Cromwell: Oh, justice is what you’re threatened with!

Sir Thomas: Then I am not threatened.

The WSJ has a couple of other interesting items today on Spitzer, including this editorial ($) that disassembles Spitzer’s latest dubious allegations against Greenberg. The piece concludes with this pointed observation:

[T]he question the rest of us should ask is whether Mr. Spitzer’s habit of publicly smearing individuals while bringing no charges in court is appropriate behavior by any prosecutor, much less one running to be New York’s Governor.

But the best of all is this delicious letter to the W$J editor that plays on a point that Ted Frank made earlier this week regarding Spitzer’s inaction in the face of the New York transit workers strike:

Strikes by public employees are prohibited under New York State’s Taylor Law. And New York State has as its chief law enforcement officer Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, a prosecutor of relentless zeal, unlimited resources and possessed of an almost extrasensory ability to detect wrongdoing.

I thought Mr. Spitzer would’ve have thrown Roger Toussaint and the rest of the TWU Local 100 leadership in jail by now.

Maybe he just couldn’t make it in to work this week.

Michael Garrett
Montclair, N.J.

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