All in the Timing

What’s odd about state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s alleged threat to former Goldman Sachs Co-Chairman John Whitehead (“You will pay dearly for what you have done”) is how it ever came into the public eye. Whitehead wrote an op-ed in April denouncing Spitzer’s public prosecution of A.I.G. chief Hank Greenberg. Then the alleged threatening phone conversation took place. Eight months later, after Spitzer conceded his case against Greenberg was too weak to warrant criminal charges, and once rival Democrat Tom Suozzi emerged as Wall Street’s candidate of choice in next year’s gubernatorial election, Whitehead tells all. The justification of going public, Whitehead writes, is that “there have been rumors in the media as to what happened next.”

These “rumors” appear to be a single question in a December 19 interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” in which Maria Bartiromo asked Greenberg to confirm rumors whether Spitzer called Whitehead to say that “basically, he was upset that he wrote the op-ed supporting you.” Greenberg said he had heard that also but wouldn’t elaborate.

But the Money Honey’s question was just as tame as earlier renditions of the phone call—so why did Whitehead speak now? The New York Times mentioned in a May 6 report that the Attorney General and Whitehead had a “frank discussion” after the column ran. And in an August 8 column in The New York Sun, Brian McGuire wrote that Spitzer “is said to have responded hotly.” Spitzer’s spokesman was quoted as saying that his boss called Whitehead merely to ask where he had gotten his information.

Whitehead is now the chairman of both the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation. The largest grant to the foundation announced so far–$25 million–came from the Starr Foundation, which Greenberg controls.

We have a call in to Whitehead’s office in case he can elaborate. Meanwhile, The New York Post reports that Republicans have joined the pile-on against Spitzer.

-Matthew Schuerman