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Patrick J. Fitzgerald leaving court in Washington
last week. He is expected to decide soon whether
to bring charges in the C.I.A. leak investigation.
I wanted you to see him. Some of the people on listservs I frequent are saying that he may be the new hero we need to expose the policies and personalities we are presently governed by. That's a left position - indicated by the word "expose." If you support our present administration you would see nothing to expose. jeanne
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: October 22, 2005
Latest Update: October 23, 2005
This backup copy is to be used only if the original site on the Web is not accessible. It is meant to preserve the document for teaching purposes, when sometimes the URLS are changed when sites are updated, or sites are eliminated. Please be certain to give credit if you refer to this to the original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/22/politics/22fitzgerald.html. Original URL, consulted: October 22, 2005.
October 22, 2005
Leak Prosecutor Is Called Exacting and Apolitical
By SCOTT SHANE and DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 - In 13 years prosecuting mobsters and terrorists in New York, Patrick J. Fitzgerald earned a public reputation for meticulous preparation, a flawless memory and an easy eloquence. Only his colleagues knew that these orderly achievements emerged from the near-total anarchy of his office, where the relentless Mr. Fitzgerald often slept during big cases.
"You'd open a drawer, looking for a pen or Post-it notes, and it would be full of dirty socks," recalled Karen Patton Seymour, a former assistant United States attorney who tried a major case with him. "He was a mess. Food here, clothes there, papers everywhere. But behind all that was a totally organized mind."
That mind, which has taken on Al Qaeda and the Gambino crime family, is now focused on the most politically volatile case of Mr. Fitzgerald's career. As the special prosecutor who has directed the C.I.A. leak investigation, he is expected to decide within days who, if anyone, will be charged with a crime.
To seek indictments against the White House officials caught up in the inquiry would deliver a devastating blow to the Bush administration. To simply walk away after two years of investigation, which included the jailing of a reporter for 85 days for refusing to testify, would invite cries of cover-up and waste.
Yet Mr. Fitzgerald's past courtroom allies and adversaries say that consideration of political consequences will play no role in his decision.
"I don't think the prospect of a firestorm would deter him," said J. Gilmore Childers, who worked with Mr. Fitzgerald on high-profile terrorism prosecutions in New York during the 1990s. "His only calculus is to do the right thing as he sees it."
Stanley L. Cohen, a New York lawyer who has defended those accused of terrorism in a half-dozen cases prosecuted by Mr. Fitzgerald, said he never detected the slightest political leanings, only a single-minded dedication to the law.
"There's no doubt in my mind that if he's found something, he won't be swayed one way or the other by the politics of it," Mr. Cohen said. "For Pat, there's no such thing as a little crime you can ignore."
Mr. Fitzgerald, 44, whose regular job is as the United States attorney in Chicago, is a hard man to pigeonhole. The son of Irish immigrants - his father, Patrick Sr., was a Manhattan doorman - he graduated from Amherst College and Harvard Law School. Though he is a workaholic who sends e-mail messages to subordinates at 2 a.m. and has never married, friends say the man they call Fitzie is a hilarious raconteur and great company for beer and baseball. Ruthless in his pursuit of criminals, he once went to considerable trouble to adopt a cat.
"He's a prankster and a practical joker," said Ms. Seymour, who now practices law in New York, recalling when Mr. Fitzgerald drafted a fake judge's opinion denying a key motion and had it delivered to a colleague. "But he's also brilliant. When he's trying a complicated case, there's no detail he can't recall."
Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed in December 2003 by James B. Comey, then the deputy attorney general and an old friend, to investigate the disclosure in a column by Robert Novak of the identity of an undercover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Wilson, also referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who had traveled to Niger on behalf of the C.I.A. to check on reports that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium there, had publicly accused the White House of twisting the evidence to justify war against Iraq.
Lawyers involved in the case say Mr. Fitzgerald appears to be examining whether high-level officials who spoke to reporters about the Wilsons sought to mislead prosecutors about their discussions. Those under scrutiny include Karl Rove, the top political adviser to President Bush, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
In grand jury sessions, Mr. Fitzgerald has struck witnesses as polite and exacting. Matthew Cooper, a Time magazine reporter who wrote about his two and half hours of testimony, said that the prosecutor's questions were asked "in microscopic, excruciating detail."
Before he testified, Mr. Cooper recalled that Mr. Fitzgerald counseled him to say what he remembered and no more. "If I show you a picture of your kindergarten teacher and it really refreshes your memory say so," Mr. Cooper wrote, quoting Mr. Fitzgerald. "If it doesn't, don't say yes just because I show you a photo of you and her sitting together."
Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who wrote about her two grand jury appearances, said that Mr. Fitzgerald asked questions that reflected a deep knowledge of the leak case as he led her through her dealings with Mr. Libby.
Mr. Fitzgerald has drawn criticism from press advocates for his aggressive pursuit of journalists he believes may have been told about the secret C.I.A. employment of Ms. Wilson. Ms. Miller served nearly three months in jail this summer before agreeing to testify. In pursuing leads that have made him a threat to the White House, Mr. Fitzgerald is following a pattern set by previous special prosecutors. Some allies of the White House complain privately that he has taken on some of the worst traits of his predecessors. Republicans criticized Lawrence E. Walsh for his handling of the Iran-Contra scandal in the Reagan administration, while Democrats attacked Kenneth W. Starr's performance in the Whitewater probe and Monica Lewinsky sex scandal under President Clinton. The two prosecutors operated under the independent counsel law, which both parties let die in 1999.
Katy J. Harriger, a political scientist at Wake Forest University who has studied special prosecutors, said that Mr. Fitzgerald had some advantages over his predecessors. He has essentially all the powers of the attorney general to chase evidence, question witnesses and seek charges. Unlike Mr. Walsh and Mr. Starr, both former judges, Mr. Fitzgerald is a career prosecutor. And as a Bush administration appointee, he is less vulnerable to attack from the White House.
"It will be much harder than it was with Starr to say this is a partisan prosecution," Ms. Harriger said.
Some attorneys who admire Mr. Fitzgerald detect a hint of zealotry or inflexibility in his approach and wonder whether what works with terrorism translates to an inside-the-Beltway case involving White House officials and their multilayered relationships with journalists.
In Mr. Fitzgerald's world, a former colleague recalled, it was pretty clear who had black hats and who had white hats, there was not a lot of gray.
But Mr. Cohen, whose defense work on behalf of Hamas and other groups has provoked controversy, says he has always found Mr. Fitzgerald willing to listen, and to distinguish between militant rhetoric and genuine terrorist plotting. "If I need a straight answer from a federal prosecutor, I call Pat," Mr. Cohen said.
Mr. Fitzgerald's moral grounding began at Our Lady Help of Christians school in his native Brooklyn. He attended Regis High School, a Jesuit institution in Manhattan for gifted students, all of whom attend on scholarship. At Amherst, where he majored in math and economics, he was an unassuming kid with a New York accent who was a stellar student, one others frequently turned to for help, recalled Walter Nicholson, an economics professor.
At Amherst, he worked part time as a custodian; in the summers during college and law school, his father helped him find work as a doorman.
After three years in private practice, he joined the United States attorney's office for the southern district of New York and quickly distinguished himself.
"I've tried a lot of cases, and he's probably the toughest adversary I've ever seen," said Roger L. Stavis, a New York defense lawyer who faced Mr. Fitzgerald during the 1995 terrorism trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Mr. Stavis prided himself on knowing the web of Muslim extremists but was surprised when Mr. Fitzgerald asked a witness about Osama bin Laden, then an obscure figure.
"I thought, 'I don't know who Osama bin Laden is, but he's in Pat Fitzgerald's crosshairs,' " Mr. Stavis said. In 2001, Mr. Fitzgerald led the team that convicted four men in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa.
During his time in New York, Mr. Fitzgerald's hapless bachelor ways became legendary. For months he did not bother to have the gas connected to the stove in his Brooklyn apartment. Once, in a fit of domesticity, he baked two pans of lasagna, recalled Amy E. Millard, a New York colleague. Distracted by work, he left them uneaten in the oven for three months before he discovered them, Ms. Millard said. When he tried to adopt a cat, she remembered, he was turned down because of his work habits and only later acquired a pet when a friend in Florida had to give up her cat and had it flown to him to New York.
Some of the cases Mr. Fitzgerald handled after moving to Chicago in 2001 have expanded his experience into the sensitive and murky arena of political corruption. He indicted a former governor of Illinois, George Ryan, in a scandal involving the Illinois secretary of state's office, as well as two aides to Mayor Richard Daley on mail-fraud charges.
But those cases bear little resemblance to the C.I.A. leak investigation, with its potential implications for national politics. Samuel W. Seymour, another former New York prosecutor and Karen's husband, said it is easy to politically "triangulate" most government lawyers, noting which were mentored by Democrats or promoted by Republicans. But not Mr. Fitzgerald. "Some people may feel he's independent to a fault, because his independence makes him unpredictable," Mr. Seymour said. "I think it makes him the perfect person for this job."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company