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N.Y. governor's journey toward resignation

Eliot Spitzer finally had to tell someone his secret. It was last Sunday morning, and he had just spent five hours driving through a fierce storm.
Spitzer Prostitution
New York State Gov. Eliot Spitzer makes a statement to reporters during a news conference in this Monday, March 10, 2008, file photo in New York where he apologized to his family and the public after a report that he was involved in a prostitution ring. Mary Altaffer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Eliot Spitzer finally had to tell someone his secret.

It was last Sunday morning, and he had just spent five hours driving through a fierce storm to his family and his Fifth Avenue apartment.

Until then, the law-and-order New York governor had not dropped a hint of the bombshell that was about to force him from office, not a strained word during public appearances Friday in Manhattan or glad-handing the media at a Saturday dinner in Washington.

But shortly after entering his luxurious high-rise building a little after noon, Spitzer faced his wife of two decades, Silda, and he had to tell her:

The "Mr. Clean" ex-prosecutor known for fighting corruption and taking the moral high ground was going to be outed as a client of a $5,500-an-hour prostitution ring.

After a few hours alone, they broke the news to their three teenage daughters.

A day later, the scandal went public. Two days after that, his career would be officially finished.

The secret's out
Spitzer's secrets began to unravel last year when banks tipped Internal Revenue Service agents to something strange going on with his accounts, authorities said. His money transfers were setting off all sorts of red flags.

The case was referred last fall to federal prosecutors, who came to believe that Spitzer may have spent tens of thousands of dollars transferring money between accounts to pay for prostitutes, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The first public hint of Spitzer's downfall was dropped in a federal court in Manhattan on March 6. Four people were charged with running a prostitution and money-laundering ring called Emperors Club VIP.

It was clear this was more than a run-of-the-mill prostitution bust. The prosecutors assigned to the case were headed by the U.S. attorney's public corruption unit, which generally looks at cases involving elected officials. None of the prostitution ring's clients was named, but the 47-page document detailed dealings with 10 of them — identified only as Clients 1 through 10.

On pages 26 through 31, "Client 9" — who law enforcement officials say is Spitzer — was described as being caught on a wiretap Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, ordering a tryst with a prostitute at Washington's Renaissance Mayflower Hotel.

"Yup. Same as in the past, no question about it," Client 9 told a booking agent when asked if he had sent cash to the same place as he did in the past, the court papers say.

When told he would be meeting the prostitute known as "Kristen" Client 9 said: "Great, OK, wonderful."

"An American petite, very pretty brunette, 5 feet 5 inches and 105 pounds," the agent, Temeka Rachelle Lewis, told Client 9, according to the affidavit.

Court papers said he paid her $4,300 in cash, and the next morning Spitzer left the hotel for Capitol Hill. He did an early interview on CNBC and testified before Congress about a crisis in the bond insurance market.

'Didn't have a care in the world'
Three weeks later, on March 7, a federal official told Spitzer he was implicated in the call-girl case. He learned about it some time between smiling for cameras as he doled out $5 million to downtown small businesses and attending a forum about the future of education.

The next day, a Saturday, Spitzer hopped a plane back to Washington for the 123rd annual Gridiron Club dinner, the party for journalists and political personalities. The governor, in white tie and tails, mingled with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, filmmaker Ken Burns and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Spitzer appeared to be in a good mood, watching President Bush singing a parody about the "brown, brown grass of home" in Texas. He chatted cheerfully with Teamsters president James P. Hoffa and others, including John Daniszewski, international editor of The Associated Press.

"It seemed like he didn't have a care in the world," Daniszewski said.

During the dinner, a Spitzer aide received repeated cell phone calls from a New York Times reporter wanting to speak with the governor. The reporter, Danny Hakim, wouldn't tell the aide why.

Spitzer's staff assumed the call was about the "Troopergate" scandal that had damaged the first year of his term, in which two ex-aides were accused of using the state police to compile records to embarrass state's top Republican legislator, Sen. Joseph Bruno.

The governor said nothing to enlighten his staff.

After breaking the news to his family Sunday, Spitzer summoned his closest advisers, Lloyd Constantine and Richard Baum. The small group huddled at his home until midnight.

Spitzer thought his career was over, said aides, all speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. Constantine and Spitzer's wife urged him not to resign right away.

"He thought he should resign from the very beginning," one aide said. "It was really family and others' suggestion that he should hang on."

Monday morning, Spitzer was visited by his sister Emily, an accomplished attorney. A half-dozen personal and political advisers were told. So was Michele Hirshman, a criminal defense attorney and his former deputy attorney general.

Aware that the Times was close to posting a story about the investigation, Spitzer scheduled an announcement at his midtown Manhattan office.

Headline on Times' Web site
At about 2 p.m., a headline flashed across the top of the Times' Web site: "Spitzer linked to prostitution ring."

More than an hour later, a pale, watery-eyed Spitzer took his wife before national TV cameras, bit his lip and apologized.

"I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong," he said.

"I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better."

He didn't say then what he was apologizing for, or what he would do next.

It took less than an hour for the first Republican to call for his resignation; others soon talked of impeachment.

No Democrats came forward to defend him.

On Wall Street, where Spitzer built his reputation as a crusader against shady practices and overly generous pay, cheers erupted on the trading floor. Many financial industry types thought the "Sheriff of Wall Street" was a holier-than-thou bully who had overzealously ruined many careers.

'Eliot and the Call Girl'
By Tuesday, more details had seeped out. A law enforcement official said Spitzer was a repeat customer of the Emperors Club, paying up to $80,000 over an extended period.

Serious criminal charges were possible: soliciting sex; violating the Mann Act, the 1910 federal law that makes it a crime to induce someone to cross state lines for immoral purposes; and arranging cash transactions to conceal their purpose.

Newspapers plastered photos of Spitzer next to his sad-eyed wife across front pages under headlines like "Pay for Luv Gov," and "Eliot and the Call Girl." Late-night comedians devoted entire monologues to the scandal.

Spitzer and family, holed up at the Fifth Avenue apartment, hardly ate or slept. He talked occasionally to his defense team that grew to include Ted Wells, a lawyer for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Hirshman spent hours with prosecutors learning more about the possible case against Spitzer.

Silda Wall Spitzer stopped telling her husband not to resign, aides said.

One poll said 70 percent of the state wanted him to step down.

The governor steps down
On Wednesday, national TV showed a macabre motorcade carrying the Spitzers back to midtown, to the same conference room he used for his announcement two days earlier.

Reading a statement calmly, without his trademark rapid-fire bravado, Spitzer ended his career, opening the way for Lt. Gov. David Paterson to become the first black governor of New York.

"Over the course of my public life I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself," Spitzer said.

"For this reason I am resigning from the office of governor."

Silda Wall Spitzer, dark circles under her eyes, stood a few inches farther from him than she had Monday, staring blankly into space.

"It wasn't real to me until I saw her face," one close aide said.