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Investigator of CIA leak seen as relentless
Investigator of CIA leak seen as relentless
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — When defense attorney Ron Safer heard that Patrick Fitzgerald would lead an inquiry into the leak of a CIA operative's name, his first thought was that, from the Bush administration's perspective, "they could not have picked a worse person."
"He ... goes where the facts lead him": CIA leak investigator Patrick Fitzgerald.
By Charles Rex Arbogast, AP
Safer, a Chicago lawyer who has watched Fitzgerald since he was named U.S. attorney there in 2001, says the prosecutor "will bring to this the same energy and aggression that he does to every other project he undertakes."
Fitzgerald's official biography says he was named special counsel in December 2003 to investigate "the alleged disclosure of the identity of a purported employee of the Central Intelligence Agency."
That bland description understates the drama and stakes of the investigation. New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to testify. The inquiry led to interviews of President Bush and Vice President Cheney and to grand jury subpoenas for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis Libby and at least a dozen other officials.
Fitzgerald is to meet with Miller today to discuss newly discovered notes on her conversations with Libby. Rove will testify this week before the grand jury for a fourth time.
Fitzgerald wants to know who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to reporters. Her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, says her cover was blown in retaliation for an op-ed article he wrote in 2003 that accused Bush of "twisting" intelligence to justify the Iraq war.
The inquiry has roiled Washington for months, and tensions are rising because Fitzgerald's grand jury expires Oct. 28. But the man in charge is not a Beltway celebrity. He doesn't hold news conferences in Washington or appear on TV. Friends say he's brilliant and apolitical. Defense lawyers say he can be cold and sometimes surprises them by boldly challenging judges.
Friends and critics agree that his integrity is unassailable and that he is relentless. The list of people he has prosecuted — including al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, former Illinois governor George Ryan and New York mobsters — shows he has no qualms about going after the powerful.
Fitzgerald's politics, motivations and style have prompted debate.
"He has no agenda," says David Kelley, former U.S. attorney in New York and a longtime friend. "He looks at the facts, uncovers the facts and goes where the facts lead him."
Mary Jo White, who was Fitzgerald's boss when she was U.S. attorney in Manhattan, says she knows nothing about his political views — "if he has any, and he may not."
Fitzgerald, who declined interview requests, is registered to vote with no party affiliation.
Defense lawyers have a different perspective. Scott Mendeloff, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in corporate fraud cases and formerly tried and supervised public corruption prosecutions in the U.S. attorney's office, says Fitzgerald demonstrates "a more black-and-white view of the world" that is "reductionist in disregarding nuances beyond what it will take to prevail." Some defense lawyers, he says, believe Fitzgerald is "not prone to consider what some would term humane factors in charging and sentencing decisions."
"To say that he is extremely aggressive is, I think, a gross understatement," Safer says. When he's arguing a motion, Safer says, Fitzgerald is "not disrespectful, but he's a lot less deferential than I bet most judges are accustomed to."
Fitzgerald, 44, was born in Brooklyn. His Irish immigrant father, Patrick Sr., worked as a doorman at a building in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Fitzgerald went to Regis High School, a Jesuit preparatory school, then worked on its maintenance crew to pay his way through Amherst College. He majored in math and economics, then went to Harvard Law School.
He worked in a New York law firm before joining the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan in 1988. He stayed for 13 years, convicting Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and indicting bin Laden in a conspiracy that included the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
In Chicago, Fitzgerald has indicted two aides to Mayor Richard Daley on mail-fraud charges after an investigation into bribery and hiring abuses. Ryan is on trial on charges of racketeering conspiracy, mail and tax fraud and false statements during his terms as governor and Illinois secretary of State.
Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who teaches political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago, says Fitzgerald is "almost universally admired ... for telling the truth and prosecuting these cases." He isn't suspected of political motives, Simpson says, because he came to Chicago with no ties to its top politicians and keeps a low profile. "He's doesn't do lunches at the important clubs or make rah-rah speeches," Simpson says.
Even lawyers who question Fitzgerald's tactics say they don't doubt his character. "Pat is driven by iron-tight integrity and a tireless work ethic," Mendeloff says.
Safer, who also once worked in the U.S. attorney's office, faults Fitzgerald for "trying to expand the reach of the mail fraud statutes in ways that are unprecedented" in his government corruption cases. Some errors by politicians, Safer says, "are punishable at the ballot box and not in criminal court." He says Fitzgerald "is impervious to political pressure. ... I've seen no evidence that he has anything but the purest motives."
White says it's unfair to suggest that Fitzgerald is too aggressive. "He's going to pursue matters ... with dedication and thoroughness," she says, "but overzealous? Certainly not."
Miguel Estrada, who worked with Fitzgerald in New York and represents Time reporter Matthew Cooper in the leak inquiry, says Fitzgerald, who is single and a workaholic, is "the picture of what the public would think is an earnest prosecutor. He's a boy scout."
Chuck Rosenberg, a Fitzgerald friend who is U.S. attorney in Houston, was asked recently why Fitzgerald is going after reporters. "I said to them, 'Pat isn't going after journalists, he is after the truth,' " Rosenberg says. "He's exactly the kind of person you'd want doing something like this."