Watergate II : NY Times : Fitzgerald formidable


Richard Moore


October 22, 2005 

Leak Prosecutor Is Called Exacting and Apolitical 

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

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

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

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

"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.

"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 


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