'Today' Rehabilitates Eliot Spitzer, Forgets Democratic Label

NBC's Matt Lauer invited on former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, on Monday's "Today" show, to help restore his reputation after he lost his governorship due to solicitation of prostitute and while the former governor expressed regret for hurting his family, it was Lauer who suggested the greatest loss was that Spitzer missed a chance to regulate Wall Street. Lauer also failed to mention the disgraced governor's Democratic party affiliation, something that has become a bit of a tradition over at "Today."

The following are just some of the pro-regulatory questions Lauer tossed to Spitzer:

LAUER: You said something to the effect, and I'm paraphrasing here. You said that the regulations were there but the will to regulate was not there...So, so now that we've had, that the economy is story number one, two and three in this country, right now, and there's been so much public outrage, is the will to regulate there now?....And, and finally do you ever ask yourself, "What if?" I mean you were a person with the knowledge and the position to perhaps do something about this? First as attorney general, and then governor of New York, until you were brought down by this scandal? Do you ever shake your head and say, "I missed a golden opportunity?"

The following is a complete transcript of the segment as it was aired on the April 6 "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: Now to a political story that sent shockwaves around the country. Eliot Spitzer rose to power, taking on the rich and powerful as attorney general of New York. And he rode his reputation and success all the way to the Governor's Mansion. But early last year Spitzer was brought down by his involvement in a prostitution scandal. He resigned 13 months ago and has remained largely silent until now. With the U.S. economy in turmoil, the man once known as "The Sheriff of Wall Street," is back. Governor Spitzer, good morning. It's good to see you.

ELIOT SPITZER: Good morning, Matt. Thank you.

LAUER: I want to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room in a second. But, but first I'd like to talk about your decision to step forward. Obviously the economy is in trouble. So much attention being paid to Wall Street. I know you feel that's a very strong element on your resume. But you also know, that by stepping out and talking about that subject, the subject of your own scandal is gonna come up. How difficult a decision was it?

SPITZER: Well it's very difficult. I've tried to apologize to, of course, my family, to colleagues, to, to the state, for what I did, for which there are no excuses possible. But I've also been asked my views about important issues, because I had worked for many years, trying to address some of the issues that unfortunately have been dragging down our economy and shaking the very foundations of our economy...

LAUER: So, so the decision to be here this morning, something you went over with your wife Silda and your daughters-

SPITZER: Absolutely...

LAUER: They had a say in this?

SPITZER: This, this is something that has caused excruciating pain to Silda, to my daughters. Something that I carry with me every day because of the pain to them. And so I've tried to balance the, these, the obligation to try to speak, if asked, but also the pain to my family, which has been enormous.

LAUER: People look at you and they say, here was the highest elected official in the state of New York, but there's more. Here was a guy who had an almost Elliot Ness-type reputation. He went after abuses of power. He went after the high and mighty. How could he have allowed himself to be involved in a prostitution scandal?

SPITZER: I, Matt, like most of us, I suppose -- I won't speak for anybody else -- have flaws. And have tried to think about it, deeply. Address it. As I say there are no excuses. I have tried to address these gremlins and, and confront them. What I did was an egregious violation of trust to, to my family, to colleagues, to the state and I've paid a price and appropriately so.

LAUER: You were not prosecuted for your actions and as a result we don't know the extent of your actions. I just wonder if you could give me some ballpark, some estimation of how long this went on and how frequently it went on?

SPITZER: Not frequently, not long, in the grand context of, of my life. It was an egregious violation of behavior that, that I fell into for, for many reasons. But, but are, none of them an excuse or justifiable, obviously.

LAUER: And, and, and because, and because of your reputation and because of the fact that you were a man who had enemies, you had to consider, at some point down the road, that somebody was going to say something to someone else. And you were gonna get caught.

SPITZER: Right, right.

LAUER: That crossed your mind?

SPITZER: It crossed my mind but like many things in life you ignore the obvious, at a certain moment, because you simply don't want to confront it.

LAUER: You said in your press conference, it wasn't really a press conference, you, you spoke out and you said you needed to now work to restore the trust of your family. What, where's that process?

SPITZER: Well I'm a very fortunate guy. I have a spectacular wife, three daughters who are wonderful. Forgiven. And there, there are moments when you realize those are the things that matter and those are the things that you should, indeed, pay attention to.

LAUER: Let me talk about what's happening on Wall Street and with the economy right now because that is really an expertise for you. We've heard so much about what caused the collapse, what got us to this point. You've said that, that you know bailing out these companies, we're just, we're aiding a system that's not working. Are you, though, comfortable with the steps that the Obama administration has taken, with the types of regulation they have suggested, that it can solve some of the problems?

SPITZER: In the short term. And I think we have to separate out the short term crisis of liquidity and insolvency in the financial sector versus creating in the long term, a financial services sector that will work for our economy. We are throwing a trillion dollars at a sector and yet I honestly don't yet see a new model of competition and a smaller financial services sector. Small in terms of they're not being these unbelievably large companies that are too big to fail. We have to confront the argument that because they're too big to fail, we bail them out, so the taxpayer bails them out-

LAUER: Well should we keep bailing out the likes-

SPITZER: No.

LAUER: -of AIG and-

SPITZER: No.

LAUER: -GM and Chrysler-

SPITZER: No we should not.

LAUER: -that, that many experts say are already insolvent?

SPITZER: We should, we should give them enough liquidity so that they don't drag down the entire economy, but then we should break them up so that there's genuine competition and the next time around they're not too big to fail. If they're too big to fail - break them up.

LAUER: You said something to the effect, and I'm paraphrasing here. You said that the regulations were there but the will to regulate was not there.

SPITZER: Precisely.

LAUER: So, so now that we've had, that the economy is story number one, two and three in this country, right now, and there's been so much public outrage, is the will to regulate there now?

SPITZER: I hope the will is there because the mistakes of the past were so egregious. But to a certain extent all of the focus on re-regulating, which is necessary - is masking over the much tougher issue, which is how do we redesign a financial services sector so that it does what it's supposed to instead of merely taking enormous sums out, giving them to the wrong people. This was an enormous extraction of wealth by people who manipulated money back and forth but did not create anything for the economy. And the, the toughest issue, Matt, going forward, is where will we see value creation in our economy? Where will we create the goods, the products to sell, to create the jobs and balance, our balance of payments.

LAUER: It's been, it's become very popular to bash any one connected with Wall Street. Let me go to AIG for a second. Here there was so much public outrage in the last several weeks, over these bonuses that were handed out to some employees after the bailout money had been given to AIG. But the fact of the matter is, many of those employees had that money coming to them and the vast majority of the people who got the bonuses had nothing, nothing to do with the financial collapse and, and, and the dealings of AIG that brought them on. Was it unfair? The criticism from the public and the government?

SPITZER: The, the, the compensation system on Wall Street spiraled totally out of control, just as the compensation throughout corporate America spiraled out of control. CEO's were making 500 times the average worker. It used to be 40 times. It was wrong. The, so, it was the lightning rod for our, our anger about that entire system. The larger issue, though, was that the AIG money was sent through to what are called counter-parties. $12.9 billion, with a 'b,' just to Goldman-Sachs. Why? Those are the issues that have to be asked.

LAUER: And, and finally do you ever ask yourself, "What if?" I mean you were a person with the knowledge and the position to perhaps do something about this? First as attorney general, and then governor of New York, until you were brought down by this scandal? Do you ever shake your head and say, "I missed a golden opportunity?"

SPITZER: I, I grieve first at, at the cost to my family and to colleagues. Sure I say to myself, what I had hoped to do was contribute, in some small way, and not to be able to participate is painful. The greater pain is for my family but of course I do say that to myself.

LAUER: Eliot Spitzer. Mr. Spitzer it's good to see you. Thanks very much.

SPITZER: Thank you Matt.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.