Nervous Spitzer Talks About Hooker Scandal in New Documentary

Asked about the sex scandal that forced him to resign as New York’s governor, Eliot Spitzer speaks haltingly and looks like he just sat on a porcupine.

“It was very awkward,” said director Alex Gibney, whose documentary “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” opens tomorrow in New York. “I was asking questions that made him very uncomfortable. You can see it in the pauses and the flicker in his eyes.”

Gibney, who won an Oscar for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” interviewed Spitzer five times for a total of about eight hours. The highlights can be seen in “Client 9,” a revealing look at Spitzer’s career as a crusading prosecutor of white- collar criminals and his shocking downfall after being caught using high-priced prostitutes. (The title refers to the pseudonym he was given by federal investigators in the case.)

I spoke to Gibney last week at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.

Warner: How did you convince Spitzer to talk to you?

Gibney: (Co-producer) Peter Elkind knew him from Princeton and had written about him for Fortune magazine, so that connection helped. But I also think he wanted his point of view to be heard.

Mayflower Wiretap

Warner: Do you think Spitzer has come to terms with what he did?

Photographer: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/Magnolia Pictures via Bloomberg

Director Alex Gibney who directed "Client 9" about former New York state governor Eliot Spitzer. Close

Director Alex Gibney who directed "Client 9" about former New York state governor Eliot Spitzer.

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Photographer: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/Magnolia Pictures via Bloomberg

Director Alex Gibney who directed "Client 9" about former New York state governor Eliot Spitzer.

Gibney: I’m not sure. I think he still must wonder why he did it. Of course, it’s not like he’s unique. Rich and powerful men having sex with lots of women isn’t exactly a new thing.

Warner: Ashley Dupre was the prostitute who dominated the headlines, but she only met with Spitzer once. Why was she singled out?

Gibney: First of all, the arrangements for her meeting with Spitzer at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington were caught on a federal wiretap. Also, she didn’t mind the publicity. She became the poster girl for Fox and the New York Post, who were political opponents of Spitzer’s.

Warner: You tracked down his favorite call girl and spoke to her. She didn’t want to appear on camera, so you used an actress to speak her words. Why didn’t you just disguise her face and her voice?

Using Actress

Gibney: We tried that, but found it was terribly distorting and actually created more of a false picture. It turned her into a weird monster and that’s not what she’s like. She’s really a straight talker who doesn’t look or act at all like a stereotypical hooker. So it seemed more truthful to use the actress.

Warner: Spitzer’s enemies gloated over his downfall, didn’t they?

Gibney: Heavy-hitters like Hank Greenberg and Ken Langone, who were targeted by Spitzer when he was New York’s Attorney General, wanted to dance on his grave. And Joe Bruno, the majority leader of the state senate when Spitzer was governor, laughed when he recalled watching news of the scandal break on TV.

Warner: Do you think Spitzer had presidential ambitions?

Gibney: I do. I think the Republicans were scared of him because he was one of the few Democrats who polled better among men than women. He was a law-and-order liberal -- a liberal who could punch.

Too Soft?

Warner: I’m sure people who hate Spitzer will accuse you of being too soft on him. What’s your response?

Gibney: I don’t know how much harder I could have been. I found out so much about his private life and I showed how belligerent and bullying he could be. I do point out some of the good things he did, but that doesn’t excuse his bad behavior.

Warner: Spitzer now has a show on CNN where he speaks out on issues. Do you think he has a future in public life?

Gibney: Only if he can convince people to trust him again. He’s got to admit that he’s not infallible and that he still has something important to say. I’d say the jury on that is still out.

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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