News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Prosecutor: The Mystery Man - Newsweek Politics -

Patrick Fitzgerald has sent a reporter to jail and pulled back the curtain on top staffers' press chats. Does he have a case?

By Jonathan Darman and Michael Isikoff

July 25 issue - Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1970s, Patrick Fitzgerald was so determined to attend the prestigious Regis High School that even a rejection letter couldn't keep him away. When his carefully prepared application was denied, Fitzgerald dialed up Regis's director of admissions and protested that there must have been some mistake. Sure enough, the school had mixed up his entrance exam with that of another Patrick Fitzgerald of Brooklyn who got lower marks. The right Patrick Fitzgerald entered Regis that fall.

Now, Washington is wondering if it's gotten Patrick Fitzgerald wrong, too. For nearly two years, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak investigation has been the city's mystery man, pursuing a murky investigation whose only targets seemed to be members of the press. But as new details emerge about White House efforts to discredit Iraq-war critic Joe Wilson and his CIA agent wife, Washington insiders are seeing Fitzgerald in a new light. Maybe his hard-nosed investigation will do more than just punish reporters. Maybe Fitzgerald's leak investigation will actually uncover who leaked.

To Fitzgerald's friends, the reassessment is long overdue. They point to his record as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York (he brought charges against figures ranging from the Gambino crime family to the Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman to Osama bin Laden) as proof that he is pursuing the greater good. Mary Jo White, the former U.S. attorney who was Fitzgerald's boss in the Southern District, recommended him for his current assignment as U.S. attorney in Chicago. His strength, she says, lies in how he "exercises his power with a real recognition of how awesome it is... He has a strong sense of the nuance."

That doesn't mean he's afraid to step on some toes, especially when they belong to members of the media. Associates say Fitzgerald is wary of reporters, dating back to his days trying terrorist cases. Concerned about protecting national security, he'd go to extraordinary lengths to keep sensitive material secret, only to see it published by meddling journalists. A particularly annoying offender, coincidentally, was Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter. Fitzgerald sent her to jail earlier this month for failing to comply with a court order to testify before the grand jury about conversations she had with sources on a matter about which she never wrote a story. In an earlier, unrelated clash, Fitzgerald had accused Miller of compromising a probe into Islamic charities by phoning one of the groups just before a government crackdown. Launching a leak investigation, he tried to get ahold of Miller's phone records and those of a colleague at the Times. The Times claimed its reporters were following standard practice and that there was no evidence they compromised a federal investigation. A federal judge quashed Fitzgerald's subpoenas.

Fitzgerald is intentionally keeping reporters and everyone else guessing as to what's really going on in his head. Last week, NEWSWEEK has learned, after Time's Matthew Cooper provided grand-jury testimony on his July 11, 2003, conversation with Karl Rove, Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, placed a call to Fitzgerald to make sure he didn't need anything more from Rove in light of Cooper's claims. Fitzgerald didn't bite: "We'll get back to you," the prosecutor replied curtly and quickly got off the line.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.


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