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A Rough Road Ahead For Spitzer

New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer announces his resignation as his wife Silda looks on Wednesday, March 12, 2008, in his offices in New York City. Lt. Governor David Paterson will succeed him effective Monday, March 17. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
AP Photo/Stephen Chernin
Although Eliot Spitzer departed the governor's office in disgrace amid a call-girl scandal, he is still facing the prospect of criminal charges and perhaps disbarment.

Spitzer, a first-term Democrat, resigned Wednesday, making an announcement without securing a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, though a law enforcement official said the former governor was still believed to be negotiating one. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

"I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people's work," Spitzer said at a Manhattan news conference, his weary-looking wife, Silda, again standing at his side as he answered for his actions for the second time in three days.

The resignation brought down the curtain on a riveting drama - played out, sometimes, as farce - that made Spitzer an instant punchline on late-night TV and fascinated Americans with the spectacle of a crusading politician exposed as a hypocrite.

"This has been one of the hardest, the furthest and the fastest falls from grace that we've seen in American politics," David Birdsell, Dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College in New York, told CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts. "This is a man in very, very serious personal trouble, the governorship not withstanding, he could go to jail."

In a statement issued after Spitzer quit, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, the chief federal prosecutor in New York, said: "There is no agreement between this office and Gov. Eliot Spitzer relating to his resignation or any other matter."

Among the possible charges that law enforcement authorities said could be brought against the former governor: soliciting and paying for sex; violating the Mann Act, the 1910 federal law that makes it a crime to take someone across state lines for immoral purposes; and illegally arranging cash transactions to conceal their purpose.

The New York Post reports that, according to a law-enforcement source, federal investigators will pore over Spitzer's financial records dating to 1999 before they decide whether to prosecute him. It could be several months before that inquiry is done, the source said.

Spitzer could also be disbarred. In New York, an attorney can lose his license to practice law for failing to "conduct himself both professionally and personally, in conformity with the standards of conduct imposed upon members of the bar."

The scandal erupted Monday after federal law enforcement officials disclosed that a wiretap had caught the 48-year-old father of three teenage daughters arranging to spend thousands of dollars on a call girl at a fancy Washington hotel on the night before Valentine's Day.

Investigators said he had arranged for a prostitute named Kristen to take the train down from New York while he was in the nation's capital to testify before a congressional subcommittee about the bond industry.

Meanwhile, new details have emerged about the call girl at the center of the scandal. The New York Times reported that the real name of the woman - identified as "Kristen" in court papers - is Ashley Alexandra Dupré, a 22-year-old aspiring musician from Manhattan. (Read more about her.)

Don D. Buchwald, a New York lawyer, confirmed to The Associated Press that he represents Ashley Alexandra Dupré, the same woman in the Times story. "That's as far as I can go," he said.

It was unclear whether she would face charges.

She briefly spoke to the Times about the Spitzer scandal. Law enforcement officials identified the governor as "Client 9" who had a Feb. 13 tryst with "Kristen" and paid her $4,300, according to court papers.

"I just don't want to be thought of as a monster," Dupré told the Times. "This has been a very difficult time. It's complicated."

In New Jersey her brother Kyle Youmans said she was just trying to get through the scandal.

Speaking to CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano, Youmans said, "She's a great woman, independent woman. She's the best sister you can have."

Law enforcement officials said the governor had hired prostitutes several times before and had spent tens of thousands of dollars, and perhaps as much as $80,000, on the high-priced escort service Emperors Club VIP, whose women charge as much as $5,500 an hour. (Read more on the investigation.)

Senior Spitzer aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Spitzer had been informed Friday by federal prosecutors that he was linked to the prostitution ring.

But he didn't tell his wife until Sunday, and after several excruciating hours, they told their daughters, the aides said. By Sunday evening, Spitzer had called top advisers, friends and loyalists. The little band huddled in the apartment until midnight.

After making a watery-eyed, non-specific public apology Monday with his wife by his side, Spitzer continued to talk to family and advisers through Tuesday.

The New York Times reports that Spitzer had his staff to contact the office of the Democratic speaker of the state Assembly on Tuesday afternoon to see if an impeachment vote could be avoided, but it was clear during the discussions that it was hopeless, with many Democrats prepared to abandon him.

By Wednesday morning, aides said, he had decided to resign.

It was a spectacular collapse for a man who cultivated an image as a hard-nosed politician hell-bent on cleansing the state of corruption. He served two terms as New York attorney general, earning the nickname "Sheriff of Wall Street," and was elected governor with a record share of the vote in 2006. The tall, athletic, square-jawed Spitzer was sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate for president.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Spitzer's replacement, Lt. Gov David Paterson, will face political challenges in place long before the news of this week paralyzed the state Capitol. (Read more about Paterson.)

Paterson will try to heal bruised relations with lawmakers in both parties who were offended by Spitzer's confrontational leadership style. He also faces a tight budget in a slowing economy and memories of divisive issues from Spitzer's less than 15-month tenure.

But Paterson, a fellow Democrat who becomes New York's first black governor and the nation's first legally blind chief executive, plans to be well prepared for the job. He asked for a handover on Monday, five days after Spitzer's resignation.

Paterson said he needed more time to prepare before taking office and wanted Spitzer to say a proper goodbye to his staff. He plans to meet with lawmakers on Monday to lay out his positions and any revisions to Spitzer's budget, which faces an April 1 deadline.

"In these situations, most politicians would be like vultures swarming around the body," said Rep. Steve Israel, who said he had spoken to Paterson. "In contrast, David Paterson actually asked for more time to do his homework."

Spitzer and his successor have starkly different leadership styles. While Spitzer was famously abrasive, uncompromising and even insulting, Paterson has built a reputation as a conciliator, and lawmakers quickly embraced the new order.

"The first thing he can, and I think he will, do is end the era of accusation and contempt and ridicule," Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said. "I think everyone will be better off because of it."

Barely known outside his Harlem political base, Paterson, 53, has been in New York government since his election to the state Senate in 1985. Though legally blind, he has enough sight in his right eye to walk unaided, recognize people at conversational distance and even read if the text is placed close to his face.

Paterson said in a statement that he was saddened by the scandal, but added: "It is now time for Albany to get back to work, as the people of this state expect from us."