Suck It Up, Charlie: It's Answer Time
Around the State
Did anybody notice what just happened in a South Florida courtroom? I have to wonder, because where's Charlie Crist to answer the questions?
How does he duck out of the bright lights and the thousand questions? In the face of accusations of wrongdoing, Chris Christie, Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich -- they all had to fight their way through a merciless media feeding frenzy.
Scott Rothstein, perpetrator of a $1.4 billion Ponzi scheme, is taken from federal prison to the courtroom, testifies the former governor traded judgeships for campaign contributions -- judgeships for campaign contributions -- and next morning when the grit hits the media fan, what happens? Out comes Dan Gelber, his lawyer-campaign spokesman, to explain it away.
“It was a 'quid pro quo' with the governor,” Rothstein said under oath.
Gelber, a former Democratic state senator and one of Charlie's newest confidantes, blew off the testimony of former Fort Lauderdale attorney Rothstein as a load of old hooey.
“There’s nothing even remotely credible about what (Rothstein's) saying and it’s clearly being said just to elevate his own warped self-importance,” said Gelber. He called Rothstein "the Hannibal Lechter of liars."
But there are a few problems with Gelber's defense.
First, Gelber can speak as Charlie's lawyer but as a confidante, not really. He was nowhere near Charlie's inner circle in 2007, 2008 or 2009, when the governor was rolling in the hay with Rothstein and his wealthy contributor friends and clients, attending Rothstein's wedding, accepting the $52,000 birthday cake Rothstein gave him in 2008, taking trips with Rothstein and pals in the Ponzi schemer's private jet. He and Charlie were a party apart back then.
Second, William Scherer, lead lawyer in the recovery efforts of Rothstein victims, said on camera Rothstein wasn't bringing up anything new, that he's been telling the court of his "quid pro quo" arrangement since he first went to trial. See Scherer's TV interview. If Rothstein is lying, he's been telling the same lie for more than three years. This is the first time anyone's been listening.
Third, asked if he put any of this in writing at the time, Rothstein said he did “to one of his [Crist’s] assistants.” Though he didn’t specify who that was, we have the starting point for an investigation right there.
True, he's on a national book tour at the moment. But in this day and age, there's Skype. What's stopping him from meeting the press from his hotel room in New York or Los Angeles with the whole entourage traveling with him if he wants, providing a statement and taking questions?
The longer he waits to air it out, the more difficult his campaign to regain the governor's office.
He has just lost one of the major strategies in his campaign against incumbent Gov. Rick Scott: ethics.
The day before all hell broke loose in that federal courtroom, Charlie sat down with FOX’s Bill O’Reilly to talk about his book and said he was going to make “ethics” a centerpiece of the campaign.
He told capital reporters and editors virtually the same thing six days earlier at an AP media event in Tallahassee. Scott is all about corruption; Charlie is all about straight-shooting. "When I ask people to support me, the only thing they get is a thank-you card," he told the press.
He might have to go back to the drawing board on that centerpiece campaign strategy.
In spite of his 4- to 7-point lead in the polls right now, Charlie always did walk a rocky road to election. A new Democrat, a party flip-flopper without an ideology, he isn't embraced by all in his new party.
Rothstein's revelation will hurt Charlie. In one day the news has gone viral nationally. Will the hurt go away like a bruise on the knee? Will it cost him the Florida election? Will it finish his political career? Or worse, could federal investigators pursue a corruption case against him?
Whatever the future holds, Charlie can't stay out-of-state forever. He might want to consider wrapping up the book tour early and coming back to face the music.
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For one reason or another, some governors find themselves on the wrong side of ethically challenging situations once they reach office.
It isn't just former Govs. Eliot Spitzer of New York and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, mentioned above, who ran afoul of the law.
Here are some others you might have forgotten about, men -- no women, incidentally -- who went from public servant to public enemy:
John G. Rowland: In 2004, after nine years in office, the Republican governor of Connecticut resigned during a corruption investigation, and later pleaded guilty in federal court to a one-count indictment for conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, mail fraud and tax fraud. He served 15 months in a federal prison.
Jim Guy Tucker: The Arkansas Democrat resigned in July 1996 after he was convicted of two felony charges related to the Whitewater investigations. He was sentenced to 18 months home confinement as part of a four-year probationary term.
Fife Symington: The Arizona Republican left office in 1997 and was sentenced to 2½ years in prison after being convicted of lying to lending institutions to get loans to shore up his real estate empire. The federal bank fraud and wire fraud convictions were later overturned.
Ray Blanton: This Tennessee Democrat, accused of selling pardons to those convicted of crimes, quit with just three days left in his term in 1979. He was acquitted of those charges, but later convicted of extortion and conspiracy. He served two years of a three-year sentence.
Marvin Mandel: The Maryland Democrat resigned in 1977 after he was convicted of racketeering and mail fraud for accepting $350,000 in gifts to influence legislation that would have benefited horse racing. He served 19 months of a four-year sentence before President Ronald Reagan commuted his sentence in 1981. Six years later, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.
David Hall: This Oklahoma Democrat was indicted by a federal grand jury three days after leaving office in 1975. He later served 19 months of a three-year sentence for extortion and conspiracy.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.