He just couldn’t help himself.
In a lengthy interview that aired on PBS early Wednesday, disgraced former governor-turned-comptroller-candidate Eliot Spitzer was asked to explain the sex scandal that forced him to resign from office five years ago.
“We have within us all drives, urges which should be tempered, controlled, modulated, held in check that I did not. And I don’t know if I can or should be a whole lot more specific than that. But that is what led to what was obviously a violation of responsibility, oath, loyalty–many terms could apply to it,” he told the Charlie Rose Show‘s guest host Mark Halperin during the interview.
This morning, in an appearance on CNBC’s’s Squawk Box, anchor Joe Kernen seized on those words and pressed Mr. Spitzer to explain how it was possible for someone with so much to lose to put himself in such a compromising position.
“It’s almost as if you wonder whether there’s a screw loose permanently for you to have done that, and from here on … you worry that you could get in a position of power where something like this might happen again, where you say that you weren’t able to control your urges or something. I mean, there’s not a way that you can be fixed from that, is there?” he asked.
“I hear you, Joe. And I understand all those questions,” responded Mr. Spitzer, trying to pivot back to his record and accomplishments as attorney general and governor.
But the host continued, telling Mr. Spitzer that he thought he’d been so smart and liked him so much before the revelation. “That’s all part of the thing that I don’t understand; whether it was absolute power corrupts absolutely or narcissism, or I’m hoping not just sociopath. I mean, you know the difference, right, from right and wrong?”
“I felt like, God, I loved this guy. He was great. It’s almost a Shakespearean thing,” lamented the host.
Mr. Spitzer, however, tried to blow past the criticism, almost comically complimenting his critic.
“Well, look I appreciate those kind worlds,” he said. “Hubris is terminal … And I think the learning process is one of recognizing that, absorbing that lesson, altering behavior, and hopefully moving forward.”
Mr. Spitzer also brushed off questions about whether he would ever trust a felon to manage his money in a business context as well as the hypocrisy of breaking the law when he had served as “the chief law enforcement officer of the state.”
“Look, I’m not going to quibble or get into the conversation about that,” said a defensive Mr. Spitzer. “I’ve had that conversation many times and made it very clear I’m asking for forgiveness, for redemption,” he said. “Whether there is redemption is something the public and voters will determine … Trust is the issue and the question the public will answer.”
During the PBS appearance, Mr. Spitzer also clarified that had not patronized a prostitute in the past five years and agreed, after some hesitation, that the sex industry was indeed exploitative of the women involved.
“It’s an exploitative industry, yes,” he said, adding that—while he doesn’t believe prostitution should be legalized—the names of johns should be publicized instead of pressing charges.
He further suggested that, if philandering politicians weren’t given second chances, the government could run out of politicians to serve within it.
“We have to acknowledge that there is not a standard of purity that applies in public service. And I think …we would have a very short list of individuals who could then serve. So we acknowledge this duality of violation and potential of service in other areas,” he argued.
And has he changed in the years since his resignation?
“I hope that I have become a bit more accepting of alternative views, desires to listen,” he said. “A bit more reflective and empathetic.”