Eliot Spitzer: Lessons After Scandal

How his fall from grace has changed the former State Attorney General’s view of criminal wrongdoing, and how he would advise other politicians to avoid his own mistakes.
  • Transcript


Question: Has your own scandal given you a new perspective on the people you prosecuted as Attorney General?

Eliot Spitzer: Well, inevitably when you’ve gone through what I’ve gone through and I would hope that – not to talk about other people, but obviously it generates a bit of self-analysis and reflection and questioning. So, sure, it has driven home what I’ve always appreciated, which is that we are all fallible and through everything I did as a Prosecutor, I was always very aware of my own capability to err, and in fact I did, as everybody now knows. And what I think it makes one appreciate is violations in certain domains does not speak to the totality of one’s personality. Some of the people, for instance, whom we had to prosecute or entities we had to prosecute for market violations were in many respects good institutions or individuals. And so, there are more subtleties to these dynamics than are always or often apparent and so one realizes that.

Question: What was your darkest moment during the scandal?

Eliot Spitzer: I think the hardest piece of this is recognizing the pain I’ve caused to my family, which is a heavy burden to carry, as it should be. And the sense that I have let down, not only my family, but friends, colleagues, the voters who had asked me to do a certain type of job and I desperately wanted to do that job and wanted to do that well. I think we were trying, we were in many ways doing that job, but I let them down. And that is a very heavy burden to carry.

Question: Do you feel you’ve earned the forgiveness of your family and the public?

Eliot Spitzer: I don’t think it’s for me to judge whether or not I have earned it, or deserve it. All I can do is ask for it at a certain point in time and obviously my relationship with my family is what I care about first and foremost, and I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have a remarkable wife, three spectacular daughters, and we as a family are in certain respects stronger than we’ve been and they have been forgiven and I have been the very lucky beneficiary of that.

Question: What would you advise Tiger Woods or other notable people who have generated similar scandals?

Eliot Spitzer: Look, again, I hesitate to give advice. I would just say, what I’ve tried to do is look within and that is where one must ultimately one’s sense of self and purpose and that’s all one can do. The other interesting thing in moments like this is, of course, you find where your friends really are and you realize who you can depend on and who is there and who tries to help. And that’s also important.

Question: Scandals like yours keep recurring. How would you advise politicians to avoid them?

Eliot Spitzer: When you know something’s stupid, don’t do it. It’s really – there often isn’t a lot of subtlety to the things that cause trouble. And it’s not a lack of capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. It’s the failure to exercise that judgment at the particular moment whether out of hubris, out of a sense of entitlement, out of a sense of adrenaline, whatever it may be. But, you know, it’s stupidity that brings people down.

Recorded January 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen