Leno to Spitzer: 'How can you be this stupid?'

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Jay Leno asks Elliot Spitzer the big question on Friday’s Tonight Show: “How can you be this stupid?”

The scandalized former New York governor is seeking the New York City Comptroller’s office this fall. “The fall from grace is incredibly painful,” Spitzer tells NBC’s late-night host. “It is something from which you learn. And hopefully you can then move on and contribute.” Here’s a partial transcript of tonight’s interview:

JAY LENO:              Here’s my question.  You’re a brilliant guy. You’re someone I always admit — you got the mob in New York, you’re the guy that brought down Wall Street and the banks. How can you be this stupid?

(Laughter.) (Applause.)

ELIOT SPITZER:    Yeah.  That’s –

JAY LENO:              No, no.  I don’t say this –

ELIOT SPITZER:    No, no, no, that’s –

JAY LENO:              No, I don’t say that glibly.  I don’t say that glibly.

(Applause.)

Because it seemed like you were a guy — you know, I kind of like — I enjoy politics. You were a guy that seemed to have, every time they tried to –

(Guest Bill Hader sinks down in his chair.) (Laughter.)

JAY LENO:              Every time they tried to get you –

ELIOT SPITZER:    Right.

(Laughter.)

JAY LENO:              Every time they tried to get you –

(Laughter.) (Applause.)

You always seem to –

(Cheers.)

You seem to be the guy who crossed every “T” and dotted every “I.”

ELIOT SPITZER:    Right.

JAY LENO:              How did you make this big a blunder?

ELIOT SPITZER:    Well, look, there is — when I used to speak about corporate governance back when I was, you know, the Attorney General and stuff –

JAY LENO:              Sure.

ELIOT SPITZER:    — there was a phrase that I used that was “Hubris is terminal.”  People who fall prey to hubris, end up falling themselves.  And that I think is something to which people in government are susceptible to.  Those who feel they are somehow increasingly important to power.

JAY LENO:              Yeah.

ELIOT SPITZER:    And this is something that I think infected me.  And the fall from grace is incredibly painful.  It is something from which you learn.  And hopefully you can then move on and contribute.

JAY LENO:              Okay.  Now, you entered the race just this past Sunday.

ELIOT SPITZER:    Right.

JAY LENO:              You had five days.

ELIOT SPITZER:    Right.

JAY LENO:              Why enter at the 11th hour?

ELIOT SPITZER:    Well, look — look, I’ve done many things in the past five years.  I’ve taught, I’ve been, as you first saw there, a host on CNN –

JAY LENO:              Uh-huh.

ELIOT SPITZER:    — for a show that lasted about a year.

JAY LENO:              Sure.

ELIOT SPITZER:    It was a good show, but the ratings weren’t quite there, and run our family business.  Done many things.  Wrote a book.  And at the end of this I said, “You know what, there’s a position there, which I’ve written about, thought about, the Controller’s position, from which I think I can actually serve.”  And I said to myself I want to contribute through public service.  And the Controller, you know, it’s not a position — people say, “You’re taking a demotion.  Why are you going from Governor to Controller?  Nobody knows what it is.”  Service is what I care about.

JAY LENO:              Yeah.

ELIOT SPITZER:    There’s a way to use this position in the capital markets, which is where, as Attorney General, I’ve done, I think, a fair bidding.  You referred to it.

JAY LENO:              Sure.

ELIOT SPITZER:    This is the point from which you can actually improve our capital markets and oversee the City’s budget.

JAY LENO:              Now, the first polls are out, and you’re leading in the polls.

ELIOT SPITZER:    Right.

JAY LENO:              So, congratulations on that.

ELIOT SPITZER:    Thank you.

JAY LENO:              Wall Street wants you to lose?

ELIOT SPITZER:    Wall Street desperately wants me to lose.

JAY LENO:              Really?

ELIOT SPITZER:    Yeah.

JAY LENO:              Okay. And why?  Because you’re the guy –

ELIOT SPITZER:    Well, look, you know, it’s no secret that when I was the Attorney General and we prosecuted the folks on Wall Street, that there was some animus that was generated.

JAY LENO:              Right.

ELIOT SPITZER:    You know, in — in the book, which is coming out shortly, the opening line is a direct quotation from a lawyer who said to me, “We’re about to file a major case.”  He said, “Be careful, we have powerful friends.”  And I said to him, “Oh, now you tell me.”  You know.

JAY LENO:              Yeah.

ELIOT SPITZER:    It was — it was obviously they bludgeon, and they bully, they threaten.

JAY LENO:              Right.

ELIOT SPITZER:    And the problem was that all the years leading up to the economic cataclysm of 2008, nobody was willing to say to them there is fraud in the market. Nobody was willing to say to them this is going to fail, and we will have an explosion that will destroy middle-class wealth.  And that’s what happened, unfortunately.  And so all the years I was saying that, they didn’t like it.

JAY LENO:              Yeah.

ELIOT SPITZER:    And the middle class — you know, the Wall Street executives affirmatively did not like me. That’s fine.  That’s their right.  As recently as a couple weeks ago I was out at, you know, for an evening and — with my wife, and an AIG executive came up to me, started screaming at me in the middle of this public event.

JAY LENO:              Yeah.

ELIOT SPITZER:    You know, the AIG, we had a bunch of cases.  We had brought a major case against AIG, saying there’s fundamental accounting impropriety here.  Nobody wanted to acknowledge it.

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