Friday, November 18, 2005

Patrick Fitzgerald: The Non-Political Prosecutor Has a Political Dilemma

I’ve only met Patrick Fitzgerald once and then when I helped him field questions from a City Club of Chicago luncheon audience—but lunching with him and standing next to him as he responded to questions popping up from a forest of upraised hands gave me a rough—very rough—inkling about the nature of the guy. Probably the best way to explain him is to offer a contrast between the last famous U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Jim Thompson and the man who has eclipsed Thompson with the sweep of the job.

Like Fitzgerald, Thompson came to the job as a young single man in his 40s. There the similarity ends. Thompson was always the politician, wanting and showing that he sorely coveted fame and a political career which could lead to riches and a supremely comfortable life-style. When Thompson was appointed, he was heralded by the media as a non-political prosecutor (as the media hoped, rather than believed). This was a total mischaracterization. Thompson began as a top aide to Republican Cook county states’ attorney Ben Adamowski who had been both a rough and ready Democratic politician and a Republican one, who began as the Springfield roommate of Richard J. Daley when both were in the legislature, who became House majority leader and who returned to Chicago to find that the Irish had all the best jobs and the Poles had very little, notwithstanding that the Poles were as dependable for Democrats in politics as the Irish. Adamowski switched parties to become a Republican at a time when the GOP was really a second vital party. He was elected States Attorney and gave Daley, his once close friend, many sleepless nights as the mayor worried about being indicted for past sins. In fact, Adamowski ran for mayor against Daley and very nearly won, carrying the white vote, the only thing saving Daley being the black vote and vote fraud.

Thompson was hired by Adamowski as his chief appellate lawyer simply because Thompson was the smartest young lawyer Adamowski ever met. And the hiring paid off—Thompson taking the landmark case of Escobedo v. Illinois to the Supreme Court, losing the verdict 5 to 4, the first to test the constitutional limits of the police in questioning suspects. Thompson stayed on under Democratic States Attorney Dan Ward and only left when he got a good sinecure as a professor at Northwestern Law School. Then, when Nixon came in, Thompson was named first assistant to the new U.S. Attorney, Bill Bauer, who had been the DuPage county states attorney and Republican politician. So by the time Bauer went to the federal bench, Thompson was seasoned as a politician. He was named U.S. Attorney by Chuck Percy. Thereupon Thompson carefully balanced his indictees. First was ex-governor Otto Kerner, a Democrat and Alderman Tom Keane, a Daley strongman along with a string of Democratic lesser fry. To balance the Dems, Thompson added as a kind of afterthought some well-known Republicans but no one who mattered a great deal: Bill Rentscher, an unsuccessful GOP candidate for several posts, Floyd Fulle, a Republican county commissioner and State Sen. Edward Scholl—all of them enemies of Gov. Richard Ogilvie. By the time he hit his stride, Thompson was perceived as a Republican and a gregarious handshaker and eloquent speaker, just the guy to rid the state of pesky Dan Walker. Only it turned out that Mike Howlett rid the state of Dan Walker and became the Democratic nominee. Thompson and Howlett had been buddies, drinking buddies, but Thompson easily defeated his old friend.

If everybody seemed to know that Jim Thompson was a Republican when he became U.S. Attorney, everybody doesn’t know much about the political proclivities of Patrick Fitzgerald. Sitting near him at the City Club table and listening to his banter, I saw a taciturn, droll, poker-playing demeanor, a Brooklyn Irishman, Jesuit-educated whose eyes betray a wily political sense. He is, after all, a Brooklyn Catholic whose both parents voted for Ronald Reagan twice. Fitzgerald is a straighter arrow than Thompson and far more circumspect than the ego-oligarch Thompson was and enlarged as he grew wealthy.

The point is: Assuredly, Thompson had and has no absolutes, has become not just the city’s wealthiest lawyer but one who has become its lobbyist-in-chief, eager to please any client and rather surprisingly hungry, after all these years, to sup at the table with the powerful. What about Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald gives every indication that he will not be so seduced. He has been mentioned for political office but he hasn’t emerged from his cocoon to spar with the press as did the early Jim Thompson. In fact, love of press was almost Thompson’s undoing. . In his 60s, Thompson was chairman of the Hollinger Audit Committee where he tinkled sherry glasses with Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle as the totally overbearing Lord Black of Cross-Harbour spent $40,000 on his wife’s party and raped the coffers of the desperately starving Sun-Times when Big Jimbo didn’t bat an eye. One has a hard time—in fact an insuperably difficult time—imagining a private sector Fitzgerald doing this. He’s still the altar boy. But his time cometh.

It is a fact that the altar boy came to the altar through intercession of the Republicans. Fitzgerald is the kind of morally circumspect Catholic Irishman who is far too socially conservative to be a Democrat as the party is current constructed (not so Thompson who can represent George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich both without a quiver). Fitzgerald holds himself back, is careful in speech, not garrulous. He plays practical jokes but they don’t betray much about him except that he needs to release the tension and change the subject now and then. I would hope, if there is abstract justice, that he could secure the conviction of the worst governor of Illinois in modern times, George Ryan. And I imagine that he could easily indict Richard M. Daley: the entire course of his career professionally would warrant it. That would be one for one: one Republican and one Democrat. A fine balance. Indeed, how can he convict Ryan and ignore Daley’s wholesale violation of the federal Shakman decision involving 40,000 jobs, many of whom were detailed to political duties on taxpayer time? So far so good.

Up to now, Fitzgerald has been a beneficiary of Republican politics while playing it straight—having been appointed U.S. Attorney under Bush and through the sufferance of former U. S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (no relation). Moreover he got his first real break as special prosecutor appointed investigating the Valerie Plame leak under a Republican administration. But the Plame affair can easily be his undoing. He comes across as a dogged investigator but also a fanatical nit-picker. He seems to have resolved to indict Libby and give Rove a pass. Rove is central to the Bush administration’s political mission, Libby is not. So the indication is that even this supposedly neutral prosecutor calculated that an indictment of Libby would certify that Fitzgerald is undeviating in his probe and an objective prosecutor. Fitzgerald has been alternately praised by the liberal media for his doggedness, then criticized by them for sending Judith Miller to jail although they hated her, then actually praised by them for sending her to jail since liberaldom now believes she was a Libby shill on WMD and “bears a responsibility for the war” they hate. Fitzgerald would have been home free—if. If only Bob Woodward had not happened.

But now comes Woodward to tell Fitzgerald that he was told of Ms. Plame’s job by another government official in mid-June, 2003 and that the “reference seemed to me to be casual and offhand and it did not appear to be to be either classified or sensitive.” In addition, Woodward met with Libby on June 27 and prepared a list of questions referring to “yellowcake” and “Joe Wilson’s wife.” Moreover, Woodward says that he told a Post colleague, Walter Pincus, about Plame but Pincus doesn’t remember being told. When the Plame matter came up, Woodward, so righteous about the failings of others, became a coward, didn’t tell his boss and even appeared on “Larry King Live” and played the worldly sophisticate, tut-tutting the importance of the Plame matter, all the while keeping this info to himself. When it got excruciating and probably recognizing that Libby would go to jail declaring he heard about Plame’s role from journalists while Woodward would remain silent, Woodward caved and told his boss, then the prosecutors. O.k., so another liberal idol has fallen. But the nut of the matter is this:

If Patrick Fitzgerald is as non-political as he is reputed, he will drop the criminal trial on Libby. He would get media heat, sure. He would be scorched as a Bush-Cheney toady. The plain justice of the matter is that Libby should be exonerated. It is possible, even probable, that no matter what the memories of Tim Russert, Matt Cooper and Judy Miller, Libby did in fact hear about Valerie Plame from a journalist: not Tim Russert but another equally well-known, Bob Woodward. Also that the story about Plame was going around, witness Woodward’s statement that he told Pincus. Will Scooter go to jail for a bogus case like this? Big name journalists called him all the time. His case is immeasurably improved; he could very well have confused the two—Woodward and Russert . Besides, perjury is not just lying under oath but lying under oath about an important matter. Fitzgerald must curse his fate but if he is as clean from political taint as he is reputed, he’d drop the case.

But, if Fitzgerald is political, he should recall that he has already spent $30 million and two years on this investigation and it would be seen as a flagrant botch if he dropped the case as well as a toady to the Bush administration—so he proceeds with the criminal trial, expecting that Libby would get off but that Fitzgerald will have done his job. My guess is that he proceeds with the trial and I would imagine that Scooter would get off, if he has any kind of competent legal counsel whatever.

What does this do to Bob Woodward? Nothing good, I hope. The Bob Woodward myth started to disintegrate with the unveiling of Deep Throat as a disgruntled FBI official. Remember the fanciful story-telling of how Deep Throat lived in a high rise and when he wanted to talk to Woodward moved the planter on his balcony to the side so Woodward on spying it from the street would know that he should go to the parking garage in the middle of the night? We all thrilled to that yarn. Remember all the college kids iln t he `70s who wanted to be journalists because of him? Remember when Woodward would open his own apartment door in early morning to pick up his Washington Post, a date would be inscribed thereon? How exciting it was to watch Robert Redford look at the camera meaningfully. Well, as we now know, Deep Throat did not live in apartment that was visible from the street so the flower-pot yarn was made up. We now know that the newspapers were delivered at Woodward’s then apartment in a bundle and that it was impossible for anyone to know what paper would be delivered to Woodward’s door. The fact that these truths were not spread across the nation upon the unmasking of Deep Throat shows that the media are up to their old tricks—protecting fellow liberals. And what about Woodward purportedly sneaking into Bill Casey’s hospital room to interview him about Iran Contra—when the doctors and Mrs. Casey claimed he was deep in a coma from a stroke? It was plain fabrication and any other reporter but a liberal favorite would be sent packing for invention.

Woodward has parlayed Watergate with fine finesse into a life of huge wealth and celebrity for himself. Like Judy Miller at The New York Times, he truly has been a Run-Amok in the Washington Post, spending his time drawing down good Post pay while researching books that build up his fame. Everyone in the Post newsroom knows that he is at best a very pedestrian writer who has to be shored up by re-write on major stories. But his celebrity has gained him remarkable access and since the Watergate story he is of great value to the Post. Read his great book on the Supreme Court, “The Bretheren” and the fine interplay between the Justices is laid out brilliantly. Recall how right he was in “Bush Goes to War”? But at the Post, Ben Bradlee has said he almost defies managing.

Yet, the bigger issue is Patrick Fitzgerald. I bet he’ll show he’s a tad political but it will do him no good. I would guess the Libby case will go to trial and Libby will get off. If this happens, Fitzgerald will concentrate on Chicago and his heapingly full plate here. By convicting Richard Daley and his crowd, Fitzgerald will, in fact, be the Prosecutor of the Era and will ease his way into a comfortable berth at a top law firm. That doesn’t mean the Republicans won’t come calling but I don’t see him as a candidate. Republicans will grouse that Scooter got a bum deal because of a runaway prosecutor; Democrats will grouse that their supposed best mayor in the nation will have been sent away for doing what all mayors since the first Lord Baltimore have done: reward their friends for political support. But the Daleys have turned what was penny-ante politics under the Old Man into a a multi-million-dollar scam with all of them profiting—even John Daley who earns $500,000 a year for doing nothing, just as an insurance broker for O’Hare concessions.

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