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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What The Hell Are They Up To?

American Scofflaw

Prosecutors of the prostitution case that exposed Eliot Spitzer as a client while he was governor are appealing a court order directing them to unseal records that may shed light on the origins of the investigation. The case led to Mr. Spitzer’s resignation as governor of New York in March 2008.

The Feb. 19 ruling by Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan ordered the federal prosecutors to provide the records — including sworn affidavits that were part of wiretap applications in the case — to The New York Times, which in December filed a motion to unseal the material.

The prosecutors, from the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, filed a notice in court on Monday saying that they would appeal Judge Rakoff’s ruling to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a decision that was made by senior Justice Department officials in Washington.

Documents like the affidavits sought by The Times generally detail the early stages of an inquiry and describe the investigative steps taken as part of the request to the judge for a wiretap order. In this instance, the government was seeking to tap the cellphones of two people involved in the prostitution ring, the Emperor’s Club V.I.P.

The Times, in arguing for the release of the documents, had cited suspicions raised on liberal blogs — and even among some Republicans — that the prostitution case, which began with an investigation of Mr. Spitzer, was a politically motivated attack. Mr. Spitzer, a zealous pursuer of Wall Street wrongdoing as state attorney general before he became governor, had been mentioned as a prospect for higher office.

No federal judge has previously ordered the unsealing of such documents at the request of a news organization, according to briefs filed in the case by The Times and the prosecutors.

A spokeswoman for the United States Attorney’s office would not say why the decision was made to appeal.

Judge Rakoff, in his ruling, wrote that “there is obvious interest in obtaining information about the origins of an investigation that led, ultimately, to the resignation of the governor of New York.”

Before the judge made his decision, prosecutors had argued that the documents should not be released because of privacy concerns of clients and prostitutes whose conversations were intercepted and the need for confidentiality of law enforcement investigations.

But The Times had agreed to the redaction of the names of the apparent clients. Judge Rakoff concluded that there was no need for confidentiality because the inquiry had concluded, with charges against four people involved in the ring. Mr. Spitzer was never charged with a crime.

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