Patrick Fitzgerald has been living a dual life.
As the top federal prosecutor in northern Illinois, Fitzgerald has solidified a reputation as a no-nonsense corruption buster--"Eliot Ness with a Harvard degree," as a friend once described him.In his other job, as the Justice Department's special counsel investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity, Fitzgerald, 46, has stood in the spotlight of Washington partisans, praised and pilloried over the prosecution of Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
On Tuesday, the career prosecutor scored the highest-profile victory of his career with Libby's conviction for obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury.
A loss surely would have called into question his tenure as special counsel. But the jury's verdict is vindication for Fitzgerald, who was sharply criticized for failing to indict anyone for the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to reporters.
"It was important for Pat to win, and he did," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Collins, the lead prosecutor in the trial of former Gov. George Ryan.
Even with a win, Fitzgerald returns to Chicago as a controversial figure on the national stage.
To many, he is the prime example of an overzealous lawman, securing an indictment by stomping on age-old traditions such as the secrecy of reporters' sources.
To others, he is one of the few prosecutors willing and able to take on entrenched politicians and their cronies.
Meanwhile, there is some question whether Libby's conviction, an embarrassment for the Bush administration, will have political ramifications for Fitzgerald.
At 5 1/2 years in office, Fitzgerald has had the longest tenure of any U.S. attorney in Chicago in almost half a century.
If he were removed now, the White House likely would face a firestorm of protest, especially since the Democratic Congress is looking into whether the administration played politics in the recent firings of other U.S. attorneys.
In Chicago and across the state, Fitzgerald has made political enemies with his office's successful prosecutions of Ryan and high-ranking members of Mayor Richard Daley's administration, as well as with the indictment of a top fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Antoin "Tony" Rezko.
Nevertheless, he has received endorsements from Republicans and Democrats serving Illinois in Congress. U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has worked closely with Fitzgerald on gang and drug issues, said he enjoys a great deal of support.
"I see no partisanship in him whatsoever," Kirk said. "He's the ideal face of a prosecutor who just follows the wrongdoing wherever it leads."
But former Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican and former U.S. attorney, scoffed at the idea that someone in Fitzgerald's position can become politically untouchable.
"Nobody is in that category," Thompson said. "He serves at the pleasure of the president."
Friends say he won't change
Those who know Fitzgerald well say the Libby case might change perceptions of him but they won't change the man.
"Pat is not a guy who is self-aggrandizing. He's not going to do his job or approach his job any differently," said Zachary Fardon, a friend of Fitzgerald's and a former prosecutor who helped convict Ryan.
When Fitzgerald arrived in Chicago in 2001, he was known in legal circles as the nation's pre-eminent terror prosecutor.
He secured a conviction in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 U.S. Embassy attacks in Africa, and drafted an indictment of Osama bin Laden before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But his office's efforts here to prosecute terror cases have been less successful. In the high-profile cases of Enaam Arnaout and Muhammad Salah, prosecutors failed to convict either man of terrorism, though they were found guilty of lesser crimes.
Greater success has come in the area of public corruption, a traditional strength of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago. In addition to Ryan, prosecutors under Fitzgerald convicted Daley's former patronage chief, Robert Sorich, of corruption.
While Fitzgerald may be the face of the fight against corruption in Chicago, he has a decidedly more mixed image around the country.
Tactics, judgment criticized
His prosecution of Libby has come under constant scrutiny for the tactics and judgment he used.
Neither man was a household name before their intersection in the leak investigation.
Today, they are inextricably linked: Libby became the sole target of special counsel Fitzgerald, a prosecutor given an unusual degree of power to discover who provided CIA operative Plame's name to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak.
In the end, no one was charged with leaking her name to Novak. Libby was accused, however, of lying to a grand jury and federal agents by telling them he learned of Plame's status as a CIA operative from reporters when, in fact, he was confidentially providing that information to the press.
To indict Libby, Fitzgerald had to know that he had provided Plame's name to reporters. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for 85 days before she revealed Libby as her source. Former Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper was days from jail when he agreed to disclose that Libby gave him Plame's name.
Mark Corallo was the top Justice Department spokesman when Fitzgerald was named special counsel. He recalls being taken aback by the decision to subpoena and then jail reporters until they revealed their sources.
"There has always been a great respect for reporters privilege [in the Justice Department]," said Corallo, whose public relations firm now represents Libby.
But Fitzgerald brushed aside long-standing guidelines at Justice to get his man, Corallo said.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald failed to charge anyone with the original crime he was supposed to investigate: the leak of Plame's name.
"This was not about the Bush administration," Corallo said. "This was about Patrick Fitzgerald. There were no checks on his authority. There was no one who could say no to him."
Fitzgerald's former boss, former New York U.S. Atty. Mary Jo White, defended the onetime prodigy of her office.
Fitzgerald wasn't overreaching by bringing a perjury case but not charging anyone for the leak that triggered his inquiry, she said.
Lying to a grand jury "basically prevents you from getting at the truth," White said. "You really need to draw a very hard line on perjury."
Besides, it isn't as if Fitzgerald is a green prosecutor without the savvy to understand the consequences of his decisions, she said.
"He's a politically appointed U.S. attorney, and he has a full docket of other cases and a huge reservoir of experience to draw on in making this decision. It's not like his only job is this case."
Assistant U.S. attorneys in Chicago said Fitzgerald's frequent absences to Washington since late 2003 have largely gone unnoticed. When he was out of town, Fitzgerald stayed on top of local investigations by e-mail and conference call, they said.
The number of indictments has dropped since Fitzgerald's first year in office, but his spokesman said Tuesday that was the result of a falloff in the number of prosecutors and not because Fitzgerald's attention had been diverted from his Chicago duties.
However, one insider said that, at least during Libby's trial, prosecutorial decisions in the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago were sometimes delayed or deferred.
Ready to return to Chicago
With the verdict, Fitzgerald appears ready to return to his Chicago duties full time. He told reporters after Libby's conviction that the active investigation was over and that he didn't expect new charges.
"We're all going back to our day jobs," Fitzgerald told reporters.
Despite the burden of Fitzgerald's absence, prosecutors under him in Chicago almost unfailingly praised their boss in candid background interviews.
Although he takes aggressive legal positions, he absolutely believes in the correctness of his approach. He has no hidden motives, he's apolitical and is willing to risk losing cases if he thinks a crime has been committed, they said.
"I do believe for Pat this case is as simple as he is protecting the integrity of the grand jury process," said David Rosenbloom, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. "I don't think the larger political story is what interests Pat."
Some critics, though, say Fitzgerald's judgment is skewed by his one-dimensional career as a prosecutor.
Ronald Safer, a criminal-defense lawyer involved in a number of high-profile corruption cases in Chicago, gives Fitzgerald high grades for energy, independence and fearlessness but a D-minus "for empathy."
"Until you have a client, until you hear firsthand the other side of the story, it's impossible to fully appreciate that perspective," said Safer, a former federal prosecutor.
"I think it is very difficult to not see things in black and white if you haven't walked a mile in the other person's shoes."
But for Fitzgerald, cases often do boil down to black-and-white facts. After Libby was convicted, Fitzgerald told reporters, "The truth is what drives the justice system."
Tribune Washington correspondent Andrew Zajac contributed to this report.
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Major trials and cases
In 2001, Patrick Fitzgerald was named U.S. attorney of the Northern District of Illinois. Since his appointment, federal prosecutors here have tried some of the biggest cases in the state's history. He successfully prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa. But despite Fitzgerald's reputation as a terror prosecutor, the biggest successes for his office have come in public corruption cases, traditionally a strength of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago.
The charge: In December 2003, Fitzgerald announced corruption charges against the former governor.
The result: After a historic six-month trial in 2005 and 2006, Ryan was convicted of corrupting the offices of secretary of state and governor for personal and political gain.
The charge: In July 2005, Fitzgerald's office reached deeply into Mayor Richard Daley's City Hall, indicting Daley's longtime aide Robert Sorich (left) and three other city officials.
The result: Sorich and two co-defendants were convicted in 2006 of conspiring to reward pro-Daley political workers with city jobs and promotions. The investigation of City Hall continues and more indictments are widely expected.
The charge: In the investigation that would ultimately lead prosecutors into the heart of City Hall, a host of top city officials and trucking contractors were indicted in 2004 for a massive bribe scheme that corrupted the city's Hired Truck program.
The result: 42 people were convicted, including City Clerk James Laski (left) and former Water Department No. 2 Donald Tomczak.
ANTOIN `TONY' REZKO
The charge: Just four months after Sorich was convicted, Fitzgerald announced charges against Rezko, a top adviser and close friend of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The result: Rezko, who has yet to be tried, faces allegations that he sought millions in kickbacks and campaign donations from firms that wanted state business.
The charge: In the first major terror case announced in Chicago under Fitzgerald, prosecutors indicted Enaam Arnaout (left), the leader of a Chicago-based Muslim charity, the Benevolence International Foundation. Arnaout was accused of using the charity as a front to funnel money to Al Qaeda and other violent groups.
The result: Although Arnaout pleaded guilty in 2003 to diverting charity funds to buy equipment for Islamic fighters, the government dropped charges that he aided terrorist groups.
The charge: The most significant terror case brought in Chicago under Fitzgerald charged Muhammad Salah (left) of Bridgeview and Abdelhaleem Ashqar of suburban Washington with being terrorist leaders of the Palestinian extremist group Hamas.
The result: After a nearly four-month trial, a federal jury on Feb. 1 acquitted the men of terror charges but convicted them of the lesser crime of obstruction of justice.
The charge: Jet-setting media mogul Black and former Chicago Sun-Times publisher David Radler were indicted in 2005 for allegedly pocketing tens of millions of dollars that belonged to shareholders of newspaper company Hollinger International.
The result: Radler quickly pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. Black has pledged to fight "corrupt" prosecutors. His trial begins March 14.
The charge: The flamboyant president of Cicero and widow of mob bookie Frank "Baldy" Maltese was charged in 2001 with fleecing the town of millions of dollars.
The result: In 2002, prosecutors proved Loren-Maltese, reputed mob figure Michael Spano and five others defrauded the town.
OPERATION FAMILY SECRETS
The charge: Reputed top leaders of the Chicago Outfit were indicted in 2005 in connection with 18 unsolved gangland murders, including the 1974 shotgun killing of federal witness Daniel Seifert and the 1986 beating deaths of mobsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro.
The result: In May, alleged Chicago mob kingpin James Marcello (left), Outfit boss Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and 10 other men with alleged ties to organized crime are set to face trial.
THE LIBBY TRIAL
Fitzgerald was appointed by the Justice Department in December 2003 as special counsel to investigate the leak of a CIA operative's identity by White House insiders. Fitzgerald, who continued as U.S. attorney in Chicago, indicted Lewis Libby (left), then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, in October 2005. On Tuesday, a federal jury in Washington convicted Libby of obstruction and perjury.
--Rudolph Bush and Matt O'ConnorCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times