The New Police State

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Jul 25, 2007 2:08 PM
The New Police State

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's report makes one thing perfectly clear: Gov. Eliot Spitzer's administration tried to trump up a scandal against his major opposition leader, then lied vigorously to the public afterward for weeks about their role.

Confirmed actors in the scandal include Spitzer's communications director, his deputy secretary of homeland security and (most ominously) the acting superintendent of the state police, who, auditioning for a permanent appointment by Gov. Spitzer, took personal charge of creating a new special record keeping system targeting only one man: Joseph Bruno, the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate who is also Spitzer's chief political adversary.

Bruno had charged Spitzer's "pattern of behavior over the years, his repeated physical threats to state officials and others, his complete and total disregard for the truth, and now his willingness to use the state police for surveillance in hopes of gaining some type of political advantage, should send shivers up the spine of every New Yorker and raise serious questions about his fitness to serve in the state's highest office."

At his press conference this week, Gov. Spitzer took full responsibility for the scandal, except for a few little things. He claimed he was misled, refused to say who misled him, absolved his longtime chief aide Richard Baum of any wrongdoing despite Baum's prior knowledge -- documented in e-mails to Baum by two close aides -- of the scheme to plant scandal stories about Bruno in the press, and similarly tried to protect his acting chief of police for entering into an arrangement that put him smack dab where police chiefs do not belong: in the middle of aiding and abetting an apparent political vendetta by the governor's office.

Gov. Spitzer also refused to fire anyone, instead demoting one aide and suspending another "indefinitely," which the Albany Times-Union helpfully points out means "at least 30 days."

Gov. Spitzer: Your closest aides get caught red-handed recruiting your acting police chief to help you spy on your political opposition, involving your administration in multiple, repeated public lies, and nobody gets fired?

Attorney General Cuomo, while sharply rebuking the Spitzer administration, also said the conduct on the Spitzer administration's part was not illegal. But Albany County District Attorney David Soares pointedly refused to go that far, saying he had not joined the inquiry into the governor and his staff.

How did Spitzer get here?

Just a few months ago Eliot Spitzer was the Democrats' new golden boy, the "sheriff of Wall Street" swept into office with unheard-of poll numbers. The only Democrat in modern history who polls higher with men than with women (and he polls plenty high among women). Given that both the Republican and Democrat front-runners for president are New York politicians, it's not surprising that those close to Spitzer made it unabashedly clear: He had the White House in view. Spitzer was the Democrats' Giuliani: A balding, angular, yet strangely charismatic alpha male -- a pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage liberal who also talked tough on crime, tough on sexual predators, tough on Wall Street execs, and tough on taxes and fiscal responsibility.

These days, Eliot Spitzer resembles several other GOP pols: Take President Bush's unswerving loyalty to longtime aides, add Newt Gingrich's overweening faith in himself as a transformative figure in American politics who The People will follow, and add a dark dash of Richard "What did he know and when did he know it?" Nixon.

Eliot Spitzer's personal recipe for disaster. The hubris of his administration directly descends from Spitzer's excessive confidence in his own political mandate. Will the Dems follow?