(Updates with reports on resignation timing, past liaisons)
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK, March 11 (Reuters) - New York state Republicans threatened on Tuesday to impeach Gov. Eliot Spitzer if he does not quit over a sex scandal that has raised questions over whether he could face criminal charges.
The threat added to pressure on Spitzer, a Democrat and former state chief prosecutor who made his name fighting white-collar crime on Wall Street, to step down after a report that he hired a high-priced prostitute.
Local media cited sources saying Spitzer, 48 and married with three daughters, may resign as early as Wednesday.
“If he does not resign within the next 24 to 48 hours, we will prepare articles of impeachment to remove him,” said James Tedisco, leader of the Republicans in the state Assembly.
“We need a leader in place that has the support of people on both sides of the aisle,” Tedisco said.
Democrats hold a majority in the Assembly, and such a move toward ousting the governor would need some Democrats to vote with Republicans to produce the required majority vote.
The scandal broke publicly after The New York Times said on Monday that the governor hired a $1,000-an-hour prostitute and was caught on a federal wiretap at least six times on Feb. 12 and 13 arranging to meet with her at a Washington hotel.
Spitzer apologized on Monday for what he described as a “private matter” but said nothing about resigning.
He neither confirmed nor denied the report.
Unidentified sources told New York’s Newsday newspaper that Spitzer had as many as seven or eight liaisons over the last several years with prostitutes supplied by an international call girl ring based in New Jersey. For each encounter, Spitzer paid several thousand dollars, the sources told the newspaper.
Spitzer, once viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party, spent the day at his Manhattan home with the media camped outside.
Despite the pressure to resign, Spitzer was undecided, a senior aide to the governor told the New York Sun newspaper.
“He has not made up his mind,” Lloyd Constantine, the adviser, was quoted as saying. “It is more correct to say that he is not resigning.”
Another source told the Sun Spitzer was trying to reach a deal with prosecutors over possible criminal charges.
Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, who would assume the state’s top post if Spitzer resigned, told The New York Times he had not spoken to Spitzer since Monday.
“The governor called me yesterday, he said he didn’t resign for a number of reasons, and he didn’t go into the reasons, and that’s the last I’ve heard from him,” he was quoted as saying.
The Times, citing unidentified law enforcement officials, reported the investigation began last year during an IRS review of suspicious financial transactions as reported by banks.
“The payments were made over a period of several months in a way that investigators believe was intended to conceal their purpose and source, which could amount to a crime called structuring,” punishable by up to five years in prison, the Times said.
Spitzer was elected with nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2006 following a stint as state attorney general — when he conducted investigations into financial cases that attracted much publicity but also resentment on Wall Street.
The Wall Street Journal said Spitzer had shown a lack of restraint in overly aggressive tactics as attorney general.
“The stupendously deluded belief that the sitting Governor of New York could purchase the services of prostitutes was merely the last act of a man unable to admit either the existence of, or need for, limits,” it said in an editorial.
At the heart of the scandal is a criminal complaint unveiled last week charging four people with running a prostitution ring dubbed The Emperors Club. Two of the four suspects are in custody and two are out on bail.
Prostitution is illegal in most U.S. states, but clients of prostitutes are rarely charged. This case is in the hands of federal, not state, authorities.
The Times said Spitzer was an individual identified as Client 9 in court papers filed last week. Client 9 arranged to meet with “Kristen,” a prostitute who charged $1,000 an hour, on Feb. 13 in a Washington hotel and paid her $4,300, according to the court documents.
(Additional reporting by Christine Kearney, Daniel Trotta, Emily Chasan, Michelle Nichols in New York and Joan Gralla in Albany; editing by Eric Beech)
(For more on the Eliot Spitzer case, see Reuters online at: