Randy "Duke" Cunningham had it all: Decorated Navy Vietnam War veteran, Phantom fighter pilot with five confirmed kills that made him an ace, political smarts, articulate, re-elected to Congress eight times as a Republican.
But Cunningham had something else. He lusted after things, like a Roll-Royce, a yacht, and various pieces of expensive antique furniture, including a $7,200 Louis Philippe commode, circa 1850. And he was quite willing to take bribes from defense contractors in order to have those things.
On March 3, 2006, a federal judge sentenced Cunningham to eight years and four months in prison and ordered him to pay $1.8 million in restitution.
Now, imagine that soon after his pleading, CNN shoved a multimillion-dollar contract in front of Cunningham to co-host a brand new cable TV talk show alongside an attractive blonde with a Pulitizer Prize gleaming on her resume.
Couldn't happen? Change "Randy Cunningham" to "Eliot Spitzer" and "Solicitation for bribery" to "Solicitation for prostitution" and you're in business. Or rather CNN is in business, having signed the disgraced former New York governor and attorney general to co-host with Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker a widely publicized and promoted cable gabfest known as "Parker Spitzer."
There's no need here to recount the nastier details of Spitzer's fall from grace, other than to say that when federal investigators wondered why his bank account featured mysterious mega-buck cash transactions, they discovered shortly thereafter that New York's chief executive was spending thousands on call girls with whom he dallied sans all but his socks.
Spitzer had to resign, of course, at which point many thought his public career was over and that he might even end up serving jail time, having crossed state lines to indulge his lusts for professional ladies. But no charges were ever filed, so Spitzer effectively got off with a short sentence in political purgatory.
His purgatorial agony ended when CNN came calling. The show is a ratings bust, as is most everything produced these days by Ted Turner's one good idea. But Spitzer has proven as adept in front of the camera as talk show co-host as he was as a New York politician prior to the FBI's wiretap.
In fact, with ratings that seem permanently in the toilet, CNN's last success may prove to be the resurrection of Spitzer's public career. That would be ironic, but not because of Client Number Nine's unusual preferences in the boudoir.
As a news organization, CNN's job is to demand transparency so that voters can hold public figures accountable for their actions. From that perspective, Spitzer's most serious crimes had nothing to do with prostitutes, though some might insist that his accepting thousands of dirty dollars from a criminal enterprise was pretty much the same thing.
The criminal enterprise was the former Milberg Weiss class-action securities firm, members of which contributed more than $166,000 to Spitzer's various political campaigns. During those same years, senior partners of Milberg Weiss paid millions bribing lead plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits that earned the firm hundreds of millions in ill-gotten legal fees.
Ultimately, four senior partners of Milberg Weiss were convicted of federal crimes, the firm paid a $75 million fine and had to reorganize under a new name.
Spitzer made headlines in 2006 after Milberg Weiss was initially indicted by returning $124,445 in contributions from firm employees to his gubernatorial campaign. But, as The Examiner reported in 2007, he kept more than $42,000 in contributions to his prior campaigns for attorney general.
You think CNN asked Spitzer about that during their contract negotiations?
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott's CopyDesk blog on washingtonexaminer.com.