CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York who resigned after admitting to patronizing prostitutes, told a crowd at Harvard University that his actions were wrong and that any revenge motives on the part of investigators who uncovered the scandal are immaterial.
When asked by a member of the audience during a Q&A following Mr. Spitzer's address on financial regulation whether the former governor's aggressive investigations of Wall Street practices led to his public humiliation at the hands of political enemies, Mr. Spitzer demurred.
"I appreciate the spirit in which that question was asked, but I'll be very direct," Mr. Spitzer said. "I won't respond to it, and it's not material to me or why I resigned. I resigned because I thought it was the right thing to do, and the actions that led to it were wrong. I said this very clearly that whatever may have led to their [investigators] going public doesn't relate to anything to that I did, it doesn't excuse it."
Mr. Spitzer resigned in March 2008 after a federal wiretap revealed his meeting at a Washington hotel with a prostitute from a service called the Emperors Club V.I.P.
In a nearly two-hour session, Mr. Spitzer laid out his rationale for government intervention in the marketplace as part of a series sponsored by Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics. His address was titled "From Ayn Rand to Ken Feinberg How Quickly the Paradigm Shifts. What Should Be the Rationale for Government Participation in the Market?"
As attorney general of New York, Mr. Spitzer's hardball tactics against Wall Street firms' aggressive business practices won him the ire of financiers, though his speech Thursday at times took an almost forgiving tone toward Wall Street.
"Maybe I'm a little less judgmental now, maybe I'm not," said Mr. Spitzer, who also defended businesses' motivation for engaging in monopolistic practices. "There's nowhere in the 10 Commandments that says 'Thou shalt not be a monopolist.'"
Kristin Davis, the madam who said she provided prostitutes to Mr. Spitzer for five years, was dismayed to hear that the former governor was invited to speak by a center focused on ethics. Ms. Davis penned a letter to the Harvard law professor who invited him, Lawrence Lessig, director of the Safra Center.
"I am greatly intrigued as to what Mr. Spitzer could contribute to an ethical discussion when as Chief Executive Law Enforcement Officer of NY he broke numerous laws for which he has yet to be punished," Ms. Davis wrote in the letter, which was posted on her Web site Wednesday. "As Attorney General, he went around arresting and making examples out of the same escort agencies he was frequenting."
Joseph Wrinn, a spokesman for Harvard, said he had no comment about how Mr. Spitzer's appearance affects the reputation of the university.
However, Mr. Lessig defended the invitation, saying Mr. Spitzer's professional accomplishments gave him credibility to talk about government intervention in the marketplace and that his personal problems were not relevant to this topic.
"Governor Spitzer was invited not to 'give advice on ethics,' but to address the topic of research at the center, 'institutional corruption,'" he said in an email to The Washington Times. "About that, he is a world expect [sic]. No doubt, his plainly illegal and unethical behavior weighs against one's judgment about him personally. It does not diminish, however, his insight into the subject we asked him to address."
Mr. Lessig compared inviting Mr. Spitzer to speak to the legitimacy of studying the writings of former presidents Richard Nixon on foreign affairs and Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder, who wrote eloquently on liberty.
"[S]o too do I believe it wrong to ignore the insight of one of the 20th centuries [sic] most important prosecutors of corruption of all sorts," Mr. Lessig said. "Learning from Nixon doesn't make you a criminal. Learning from Jefferson doesn't make you want own slaves. And I doubt listening to Spitzer will make anyone commit the wrongs which he was rightly criticized for committing."