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Eliot’s Mess


(If you’re a Kossak please recommend Howie’s Bush dog diary over at DailyKos — jh)

I was hoping more details would emerge about how the Feds came to bust Eliot Spitzer today but alas, it’s all still very murky. Alan Dershowitz is on my teevee telling me that the structuring charges will never stick, and as Mark Kleiman notes, all the wingnuts were adither when this was used against Rush, so there’s a bit of inconsistency today with all their preening, self-righteous flap.

And for the record, as someone who thinks prostitution should be legal — and that most laws restricting it are written to make the lives of prostitutes worse, not better — I don’t plan to be calling for Spitzer’s resignation any time soon. But others may be:

The Republican leader of the New York State Assembly, James Tedisco, vowed to push for impeachment proceedings against Spitzer if he did not step down. New Yorkers "cannot have this hanging over their heads," he said.

Really? Because this brings to mind another recent impeachment attempt.

I’ve been poking around this all day, but even a best case scenario has a bunch of cash transfers by Spitzer triggering suspicious activity reports (SARs), which BDBlue helpfully explains here. The IRS is informed, and because it’s a political figure and they’re worried about, say, blackmail they refer it to the Justice Department.

David Kurtz at TPM explains:

If I’m remembering my white collar crime law correctly, structuring is basically trying to avoid triggering the federal reporting requirement for any cash transaction that exceeds $10,000. So a series of $9,000 payments to the same person in a short period of time would raise suspicions, for example.

Typically, structuring is a charge prosecutors put together after the fact, by which I mean they reconstruct a financial transaction or series of financial transactions after they have already begun their investigation and are able then to piece together the elements of a structuring charge.

So the DoJ figures out it’s not structuring — Spitzer is not breaking the law they thought he was breaking. He’s not trying to avoid triggering federal reporting requirements, that really is what some five-diamond Emperor’s Club girl costs. (The Rude Pundit explains the difference between a three diamond and a seven diamond hooker. Who knew?)

But rather than say "okay, he’s not guilt of doing what we thought he was doing, let’s go home" — they seem to be pursuing "money laundering" charges:

But no time for Spitzer’s stepping aside appeared firm, and two sources said that at the moment Spitzer’s lawyers are in discussions with federal prosecutors concerning which charges the governor might face. According to lawyers close to the federal investigation, a key charge around which any prosecution or more likely pre-prosecution plea deal revolves is a money laundering one: the transfer of money to fund an unlawful activity, in this case, prostitution.

No such charge — or any other charge — has been unsealed against Spitzer.

There’s not a lot to go on at this point, but it all feels a bit staged, vague and weird as the political pressure for Spitzer to step down mounts — based on sexual allegations that don’t seem to have anything to do with what the Feds might potentially charge him with And unfortunately what we get today is a lot more about Spitzer’s sex life, rather than an explanation as to how this all went down.

But what we know– as Scott Horton suggests — has shades of Siegelman all over it.

Update:  Bmaz has more. 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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