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

Monday, October 24, 2005

Prosecutor in CIA leak case seen as incorruptible - Yahoo! News

By Andrew Stern

The U.S. prosecutor at the center of a CIA leak probe focused on the White House has relentlessly pursued politicians, mobsters and suspected terrorists.

Plucked from New York in 2001 to run the Chicago office of the Justice Department, Patrick Fitzgerald, the Brooklyn-born son of Irish immigrants, has a reputation as an incorruptible prosecutor in the mold of Chicago crime-fighter Eliot Ness, who took on Al Capone's criminal empire.

Fitzgerald has won convictions of the 1993 bombers of New York's World Trade Center and members of the Gambino crime family, and he secured an indictment of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whom Fitzgerald has said he would like to try some day.

Fitzgerald was chosen in 2003 to investigate the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, criticized the Iraq war. The probe has led to interviews with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and four sessions of grand jury testimony by Bush political guru Karl Rove.

Lawyers and other sources involved in the case said on Sunday that Fitzgerald appeared to be laying the groundwork for indictments in the case this week, including possible charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Fitzgerald has angered some by getting high-profile reporters at Time magazine and The New York Times to testify about their anonymous sources under threat of jail.

The Times' Judith Miller was imprisoned for 85 days for contempt until Fitzgerald apparently interceded with her source, Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to give her a personal waiver and allow her to testify about their conversations. Legal experts said Fitzgerald's advice to Libby edged perilously close to crossing the line to coercion.

Some of Fitzgerald's methods have drawn the ire of media watchdogs who believe he is treading on principles of freedom of the press and frightening off anonymous sources by demanding reporters' sources.

"Journalists should not have to face the prospect of imprisonment for doing nothing more than aggressively seeking to report on the government's actions," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times.

Fitzgerald was criticized in another case for scouring the telephone records of two Times reporters to seek out their sources after they supposedly compromised government raids on two Chicago-based Muslim charities charged with funneling money to Muslim fighters and al Qaeda.


Chicago defense lawyers have accused Fitzgerald of overzealous prosecutions of government bureaucrats on corruption and influence-peddling charges that they say amounts to criminalizing what they call business as usual.

"My sense is that 'business as usual' in Chicago politics is ripe for investigation," University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt said.

"My impression is that he's an extraordinarily well-respected and, indeed, a tough and aggressive prosecutor," Harcourt said of the 44-year-old Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald's office is prosecuting former Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges, and another probe has reached into the upper echelons of Chicago Democratic Mayor Richard Daley's administration.

Described as a workaholic, Fitzgerald is known to awaken his prosecutors in the middle of the night with comments and questions.

He has bristled at any suggestion of political taint in his choice of prosecution targets, and professes to have no political allegiances or ambitions beyond his current job.

"As a prosecutor, you have two roles: Show judgment as to what to go after and how to go after it. But also, once you do that, to be zealous. And if you're not zealous, you shouldn't have the job. Now sometimes 'zealous' becomes a code word for overzealous and I don't want to be overzealous. I hope I'm not," Fitzgerald told The Washington Post in an interview.


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