Today's Papers

They Shot the Sheriff

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with the resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. With his wife at his side, Spitzer apologized to his family and supporters: “I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people’s work.” He said his resignation would be effective Monday, a date that was suggested by his successor, Lt. Gov. David Paterson. A veteran New York politician with more than 20 years of experience as a legislator, Paterson will become the state’s first African-American governor and the first of any state who is legally blind. The question now is whether the man who was once known as the “sheriff of Wall Street” will face prosecution.

USA Todayleads with news that the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the allowable limits on ozone pollution yesterday. Under the new federal limits, more than 300 counties across the country would be in violation of the standard. But by lowering the smog limit to 75 parts per billion from the current standard, which is effectively 84 ppb, the agency ignored the advice of its own advisory council, which had pushed for an even stricter standard. The EPA administrator also said he would try to persuade Congress to rewrite the Clean Air Act so regulators can take into account costs when revising pollution standards.

Everyone notes that Spitzer’s resignation, which came a mere two days after news broke that he was a client of a high-priced prostitution ring, marks a spectacular fall for a politician who was elected governor with 69 percent of the vote, was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, and who many thought could be the country’s first Jewish president. The NYT says, “Spitzer appeared to struggle with the decision to relinquish power” and decided to give up only when it became clear that many Democrats in Albany were ready to abandon him if he decided to stay in office.

Responding to speculation that Spitzer’s resignation had come after a deal with prosecutors, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a statement where he denied there was any agreement. A former prosecutor tells USAT that since “the U.S. attorney’s office knew he was being forced out of office,” it’s unlikely his resignation could have been used as leverage. But the WSJ, which has by far the most comprehensive coverage of the legal landscape, says Spitzer’s resignation “could work to his benefit, in that prosecutors may have less interest in aggressively pursuing what may be a relatively weak case against him once he is out of office.”

Everyone points out that the legal questions surrounding the case are far from clear since prosecutors are still investigating and weighing whether to file charges. But the WSJ suggests that, so far, it seems any serious charges are unlikely. Even though Spitzer could face charges relating to the actual hiring of a sex worker and paying for her travel across state lines, “federal prosecutions on such charges are rare,” says the WSJ. Spitzer could also face charges that he structured his payments in a way to avoid federal oversight. But, again, the WSJ says that “the transactions were ultimately executed under his name and in accordance with other regulations.” Plus, prosecutors would have to prove he actually meant to break the law instead of just avoid embarrassment. It seems the one easy case prosecutors could make is to charge him with breaking a law that prohibits financial movements that have the “intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity.”

But legal questions are boring and can’t come close to the front-page NYT story that puts a face on the prostitute who allegedly had the encounter with Spitzer at the Mayflower hotel on Feb. 13. The woman identified as “Kristen” is really Ashley Alexandra Dupré, a 22-year-old aspiring musician from New Jersey who (surprise!) has a MySpace page, where she says she was abused, left “a broken family” when she was 17, and eventually moved to New York to pursue a music career. The NYT appears to be the only media outlet that was able to talk to her directly. “I just don’t want to be thought of as a monster,” she said. “This has been a very difficult time. It is complicated.” The WP takes a close look at the affidavit that details the investigation and says the Emperors’ Club “sometimes sounds less like a sophisticated sex ring than an overstressed start-up.”

In the WSJ’s op-ed page, Alan Dershowitz writes that although there’s no evidence that Spitzer was targeted, “the story of how he was caught does not ring entirely true to many experienced former prosecutors and current criminal lawyers.” Although there’s been lots of talk about how it all started with suspicious banking transactions, the amount of money in question was quite small, and it seems strange that so much attention would be paid to a few thousand dollars going to corporations that weren’t under investigation. If the government really wanted to shut down a prostitution ring, there were easier (and far cheaper) ways to do that without wiretapping or the interception of e-mails. (The WSJ says it’s still not clear whether officials were already investigating the prostitution ring or if the inquiries into Spitzer’s financial transactions were what started everything.)  But all this talk is pointless, writes John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general, in the NYT. “No offensive strategy will work in these circumstances,” Farmer writes. “The governor’s alleged conduct was too brazen.”

The NYT fronts word that after news broke that the CIA had destroyed interrogation videotapes, the Defense Department began its own review and has so far found nearly 50 tapes of interrogations at military facilities. Pentagon officials say there has never been a clear policy about videotaping interrogations, and some tapes have been destroyed. So far, it seems only one of the tapes shows rough interrogation techniques, but officials insist it consists of nothing close to water-boarding “or any other treatment approaching what they believed could be classified as torture.”

Both the NYT and LAT take a look at how Geraldine Ferraro’s comments, in which she said that if Sen. Barack Obama “was a white man, he would not be in this position,” once again catapulted the issue of race to the forefront of the Democratic contest. As much as the candidates say they are trying to get away from the issues of race and sex, they “have been unavoidable subtexts” (NYT). Ferraro resigned from Sen. Hillary Clinton’s finance committee, but she didn’t apologize for the comments. Unlike any other issue, race has the potential to cause a deep divide in the party. The LAT points out that two prominent black pastors said black voters could become so disenchanted if Clinton is the nominee that they could very well stay home in the general election. “This is a virtual race war, politically,” one of the country’s leading Pentecostal ministers said.

Seven Harry Potter books were enough for J.K. Rowling, but apparently not for Warner Bros. Pictures, which is eager to continue the extremely lucrative franchise as long as possible, notes the LAT. The studio announced that the final part of the saga will be divided into two movies. Of course, those behind the movies insist that it’s all about trying to stay faithful to the story and has nothing to do with money.