How Spitzer Could Have Survived
Former Eliot Spitzer adviser Lloyd Constantine talks to The Daily Beast about the reason the former governor turned to prostitutes, how he could have survived, and why he’s no Bill Clinton.
Eliot Spitzer would still be governor of New York if he had Bill Clinton's balls, Lloyd Constantine tells The Daily Beast.
"If he had what Clinton has—I don't know whether it's balls or chutzpah or survival instinct or whatever that is—he would have had a good chance of surviving. I never told him that he was a cinch if he had the fight, I told him he had a respectable chance, if he followed the advice that I gave him."
“It is not a private matter when you are the governor of the state, when you have signed into law the toughest sex-trafficking bill in the nation. It is just not private in any sense.”
With his new book, Journal of the Plague Year, out today, Lloyd Constantine has delivered the first look inside Spitzer's beleaguered camp as the governor prepared to resign. Constantine lays out his credentials as the consummate insider, the man who thought he would be Merlin in King Eliot's Court as Spitzer waltzed toward the White House. Instead, he is now left trying to explain what exactly happened to bring about Spitzer's fall.
Lloyd Constantine said he believes that Eliot Spitzer's secret visits to hookers may have begun in late 2005 and grown more and more frequent as Spitzer became stressed out over his multiple fights with billionaire opponents and making the transition from New York attorney general to governor. Constantine contends that these pressures might have inexplicably caused Spitzer to crack.
"I very strongly disagree with the notion that this was the guy who thought he was going to get away with it," Constantine tells The Daily Beast. "I am quite sure, in retrospect, that he knew he was going down. It was that brooding omnipresence that altered the way he acted, his decision-making process, altered everything."
A clever lawyer, Constantine in effect constructs what might be called the "Stressed Out, Sexual Craziness Defense," a new first cousin to the insanity defense.
Constantine attributes Spitzer's serial visitations with hookers to some vague form of mental illness and a need for physical release to cope with stress that increased spikes of testosterone and adrenaline and caused a "chemical change" in him. "Client 9" was a product, Constantine says, of Eliot "The Impostor," a man riddled with fear—"this poisonous intravenous drip" from the certain knowledge that he was doomed to be caught.
Constantine tells us Spitzer—his former employee, law partner, tennis opponent, and best friend, talked to him in tears on March 9, 2008, at 10:37 p.m. and begged him to be "of counsel" as the hooker bombshell was about to burst around "Client No. 9."
Constantine says he never asked Spitzer when the prostitute parade began, how frequently Spitzer partook, or whether the governor thought he would not be caught.
At the time of the crisis, Constantine says, those questions did not matter much. "It had been going on for a while when he was still attorney general, maybe in late 2005 or early 2006. I believe at first, it was infrequent, then more, and toward the very end, it was at its greatest frequency. It might matter an awful lot, but it is not the subject of my book."
He is still upset Spitzer did not fight to stay on, because Constantine believes that once the scandal was public, a huge burden would have been lifted from Spitzer's conscience and he could have become "the guy the voters thought they elected."
Constantine writes that he and the governor's wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, urged Eliot to hang tough, but the governor refused. Spitzer rejected as hypocritical the idea he could come back to Albany. Constantine says he urged the governor to check into The Meadows, the same Arizona sex-addict rehabilitation facility Tiger Woods attended recently. That disappearing act, combined with spectacle of then-Lt. Gov. David Paterson taking charge in Albany, would have been enough for the reluctant public to welcome Spitzer back in office after a month's absence.
Constantine declines to name names, but concedes that when Spitzer resigned, there was widespread speculation that two of his billionaire adversaries might have been behind the effort to expose the "Sheriff of Wall Street" as a hooker-humping hypocrite. Those men: former AIG chairman and CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg and Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone have always denied any involvement, despite relishing Spitzer's fall. Constantine also points a middle finger at Roger Stone, a fabled political dirty trickster who once worked for Joe Bruno, Spitzer's archenemy and the former Republican New York Senate Majority Leader. While Bruno is out of the picture, Stone is not. Just last week, Stone was in the background at the press conference held by the so-called Spitzer Madam Kristin Davis as she announced her candidacy for governor.
Constantine says he would cut Spitzer off when, in the gloomy aftermath of resignation, the governor began pondering who he thought was behind bringing his peccadilloes to the attention of the U.S. Attorney. "I believe that he believed there was someone behind this and outing him. If we started down the entrapment path, I would cut him off. My response to that was "Yep, well, maybe, but doesn't matter really, does it? You did this and it isn't like you did it once." So there was no "They did it to me. Oh my God, they entrapped me."
Still, neither Constantine nor Spitzer believed the official explanation that federal prosecutors stumbled on Spitzer and the Emperor' Club prostitution ring as a result of an investigation of improper currency transactions. That idea, Constantine says, is "not likely, but plausible."
As The New York Times was identifying Spitzer as "Client No. 9", the governor gave an initial statement on Monday, March 10 that Constantine thought was terrible. Spitzer called the issue: "a totally private matter," which Constantine says "was not the right approach and not accurate. It is not a private matter when you are the governor of the state, when you have signed into law the toughest sex-trafficking bill in the nation. It is just not private in any sense."
While he claims to avoid "psychobabble" as much as possible, Constantine's builds his case on pretty circumstantial evidence, including the loss of physical activity that occurred once Spitzer abandoned in 2006 the ritual of weekly early morning tennis battles with Constantine.
"Here's a guy virtually always did the same thing. He would go to a restaurant and always order the same dish. He would serve and always volley; he would never stay back.," Constantine says. "He became erratic ambivalent, he would vacillate. He would waver…all of that is to me a measure of the fact that he was troubled and it is pretty clear what he was troubled by. He wasn't troubled by the policies he was pursuing; he was troubled by something else. The thing that was troubling him had to do with something else that nobody else understood."
Constantine says the portrait he paints "makes Eliot look good. It was an effort to write a truthful book. It is not an effort to gloss over anything, but it does make Eliot look good because I love Eliot. I cherish that man. It's a very loving portrait of the man I wasn't trying to demonize him but it does do that."
Still, Constantine was close to Spitzer for a quarter of a century because they were so alike. Two Alpha males, two bulls in the china shop called Albany, New York. Since Constantine talked to the New York Post last fall, Eliot and Silda Spitzer have cut him off. Accusing Constantine of a "fundamental breach of trust," the Spitzer camp released a statement to The New York Times condemning the book as "a self-serving and largely inaccurate interpretation of events mixed with unfounded speculation."
Constantine is heart-broken yet stubborn. He sent the Spitzers the book and a note and waits. "He knows my phone number. I know his. If he wants to speak to me, he'll do that. …The last thing I am going to do is have a conversation with Eliot through the press."
Allan Dodds Frank is a business investigative correspondent who specializes in white-collar crime. He also is president of the Overseas Press Club of America.