"Client 9": How Spitzer fell (or was pushed)

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer addresses the media at his office in New York, on March 12, 2008 to announce his resignation from office, after revelations that he had been a client of a prostitution ring.
"It's a hard film to boil down," said director Alex Gibney of his new documentary on the very public fall from grace of New York's former governor who was outed for having used the services of call girls.

But the narrative of "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" is anything but straightforward, and its tawdriness is not limited to the pay-for-sex sense.

The film presents unsettling questions surrounding the case which exploded in March 2008 when Spitzer was named in The New York Times as having been a customer of the Emperors Club VIP escort service.

For example:

Why was the FBI - which never investigates escort services - devoting considerable manpower and resources to tapping the phones of the Emperors Club? And why were details about its girls leaked to reporters, including their real names and home and work phone numbers?

Why was Spitzer the only client pursued by the feds for being a john, when other public figures (such as Louisiana's Republican Senator David Vitter, caught texting the D.C. Madam from the Senate Chamber) have gone untouched?

How did a notorious GOP dirty trickster learn about Spitzer's proclivities and allegedly inform the Justice Department, in a letter the feds say they never received?

Why did one of the many powerful enemies Spitzer had made during his investigation of Wall Street corruption admit to a CNBC reporter, when news of Spitzer's outing broke, that he already knew about it, and boasted that a witness had informed him of details?

It's all enough to make even the most un-conspiracy-minded go hmmmmmm. . . .

Spitzer certainly was a star ascendant when, as New York's Attorney General, he investigated bankers and investment fund managers. The "Sheriff of Wall Street" handily won election as Governor, with a vow to clean up corruption in Albany.

But he had a target on his back - and news of Spitzer's sex scandal not only brought rejoicing to Wall Street, it also stopped dead in its tracks investigations of abuses in Big Finance (which would, only months later, collapse spectacularly).

Gibney said his take on the story changed as he delved deeper into its issues - that it was not just about a prominent figure making a public fool of himself, but about the outside forces that may have contributed to the salacious spectacle.

"When I approached the film (and I think it was one of the reasons why Spitzer agreed to appear), it wasn't only going to be a film about the scandal - the rich irony of the Sheriff of Wall Street seeking comfort in an escort service. Yes, it was a rich irony, but it wasn't a unique irony. But there was something odd about the timing of it all."

And so Gibney dug in, joined by investigate journalist Peter Elkind (with whom he'd collaborated on "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room").

Gibney said the only condition Spitzer made for agreeing to be interviewed was that the filmmakers share with him any new discoveries so that could comment. "But there was no deal about what we couldn't or couldn't use - we were going to use anything," Gibney said.

One of the most fascinating - and jaw-dropping - aspects of "Client 9" was how Gibney was able to get so many of Spitzer's enemies, whose actions carry the whiff of conspiracy, to talk on camera with such candor and glee. (Well, to be honest, the glee part was not so difficult to understand.)

Case in point: Kenneth Langone, cofounder of Home Depot and former director of the New York Stock Exchange. In 2003 he was prosecuted by Spitzer for approving a $140 million retirement package for then-Chairman of the NYSE Dick Grasso. Though the lawsuit was thrown out in court, Langone never forgave Spitzer.