Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s political career teetered on the brink of collapse Monday after the corruption-fighting politician once known as “Mr. Clean” was accused of paying for sex with a high-priced call girl.
The scandal drew immediate calls for the Democrat to step down. At a news conference before about 100 reporters, a glassy-eyed Spitzer, his wife at his side, apologized to his family and the people of New York.
But he gave no details of what he was sorry for, did not discuss his political future and ignored shouted questions about whether he would resign.
“I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself,” said the 48-year-old father of three teenage girls. “I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.”
The New York Times was first to break the story, reporting that Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging Feb. 13 to meet at a Washington hotel room with a prostitute from a call-girl business known as the Emperors Club VIP.
Law enforcement officials told NBC News that Spitzer was identified as Client 9 in the records. Spitzer was in Washington on Feb. 13 to meet with congressional officials.
Spitzer not charged
Last week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed conspiracy charges against four people, accusing them of running the prostitution ring. Prosecutors said the defendants arranged connections between wealthy men and more than 50 prostitutes in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Paris.
Spitzer has not been charged, and prosecutors did not comment on the case. The four defendants were charged with violating the federal Mann Act, a 1910 law that outlaws traveling across state lines for prostitution. Spitzer learned that he had been implicated when a federal official contacted his staff Friday, a person briefed on the case told The New York Times.
Spitzer called the issue “a private matter” in his comments Monday. He gave no details but said his conduct “violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong.”
Some immediately called for Spitzer to resign.
“He has to step down. No one will stand with him,” said Rep. Peter King, a Republican congressman from Long Island. “I never try to take advantage or gloat over a personal tragedy. However, this is different. This is a guy who is so self-righteous, and so unforgiving.”
James Tedisco, Republican leader of the State Assembly, said Spitzer “has disgraced his office and the entire state of New York. He should resign his office immediately.”
Democratic Assemblyman John McEneny said: “I don’t think anyone remembers anything like this. The fact that the governor has a reputation as a reformer and there is a certain assumption as attorney general that you’re Caesar’s wife. It’s a different element than if you were an accountant.”
In an affidavit obtained by NBC News, the FBI said a prostitute named Kristen was sent to Room 871 in an unidentified hotel where Client 9 was staying.
Client 9 asked to be reminded of what Kristen looked like and was told that she was an “American, petite, very pretty brunette, five feet five inches, and 105 pounds.”
The meeting apparently lasted from 9:36 p.m. ET, when Kristen arrived, until 12:02 a.m.
Kristen collected $4,300 from Client 9, according to the FBI affidavit. She said that the appointment went “very well” and that “she liked him and did not think he was difficult.”
The agent said she had been told the client “would ask you to do things that ... you might not think were safe ... very basic things,” according to the papers, but that Kristen responded by saying, “I have a way of dealing with that ... I’d be, like, listen dude, you really want the sex?”
When discussing how the payments would be arranged, Client 9 told the agent: “Yup, same as in the past, no question about it” — suggesting Client 9 had done this before.
The Web site of the Emperors Club VIP displays photographs of scantily clad women with their faces hidden, along with hourly rates depending on whether the prostitutes were rated with one diamond, the lowest ranking, or seven diamonds, the highest. The most highly ranked prostitutes cost $5,500 an hour, prosecutors said.
The case is being handled by prosecutors in the public corruption unit of U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia’s office. A spokeswoman for Garcia said the office had no comment.
Spitzer built his political legacy on rooting out corruption, including several headline-making battles with Wall Street while serving as state attorney general. He stormed into the governor’s office in 2006 with a historic share of the vote, vowing to continue his no-nonsense approach to fixing one of the nation's worst governments.
Time magazine had named him “Crusader of the Year” when he was attorney general, and the tabloids proclaimed him “Eliot Ness.”
His cases as attorney general included criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and tourism involving prostitutes. In 2004, he was part of an investigation of an escort service in New York City that resulted in the arrests of 18 people on charges of promoting prostitution and related charges.
MSNBC’s Dan Abrams, a lawyer who is NBC News’ legal affairs correspondent, said that even if he were involved in the prostitution ring, Spitzer might escape prosecution because, in general, cases are rarely brought against customers of prostitutes.
But political analysts of both parties said Spitzer’s carefully constructed reputation as a moralizing crime fighter would make it difficult for him to remain in office or in politics.
His term as governor has been marred by problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear Spitzer’s main Republican nemesis.
Spitzer had been expected to testify to the state Public Integrity Commission he had created to answer for his role in the scandal in which his aides were accused of misusing state police to compile travel records to embarrass Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno.
Bruno wouldn’t comment Monday when asked what Spitzer should do. “I feel very badly for the governor’s wife, for his children,” Bruno said. “The important thing for the people of New York state is that people in office do the right thing.”