U.S. Attorney Who Tried Blagojevich Stepping Down

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, is leaving his position at the end of June. Fitzgerald has put two Illinois governors in prison and has handled other high-profile prosecutions, including that of Scooter Libby and Conrad Black.

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One of the most successful federal prosecutors in the country is stepping down. Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, says he will leave office at the end of June. Over the last several years, Fitzgerald won the convictions of two Illinois governors on corruption charges and of former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in the CIA leak case.

From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports on the legacy of Chicago's longest-serving U.S. attorney.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: In his 11 years as Chicago's top federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald and his office took on the leaders of the city's most notorious street gangs, the leaders of the mob, and the leaders of Illinois' political establishment.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only be described as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree.

SCHAPER: In addition to winning the conviction of former Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Fitzgerald also charged and tried former Republican Governor George Ryan who is currently serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence.

ANDY SHAW: He took the anti-corruption crusade to a new level.

SCHAPER: Andy Shaw of the Chicago-based Better Government Association says Fitzgerald elevated the prosecution of public corruption in Chicago like no other U.S. attorney before him, bringing down not just governors but dozens of lower level public officials too.

SHAW: He struck fear into the hearts of politicians. And I think that the political climate of Illinois is a little bit better today, in part because more people are thinking twice about misbehaving; they know that Pat Fitzgerald would be coming after them.

SCHAPER: Fitzgerald also reached up into the White House when as a special prosecutor he investigated who leaked the name of CIA operative Valarie Plame, which resulted in the conviction of Lewis Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Fitzgerald was sharply criticized by some Republicans who called that prosecution a witch hunt. And he's been criticized in some other cases too.

ALBERT ALSHULER: I think that in the cases I've been involved with, his office has sometimes been overzealous.

SCHAPER: Albert Alshuler is professor emeritus at the University of Chicago School of Law and represented former Illinois Governor George Ryan on appeal. He says Fitzgerald at times may have tried to apply federal law too broadly. But he adds that he's also fair.

Fitzgerald's office issued a statement today announcing that he will step down June 30th, but he did not give a reason. He could elaborate at a news conference scheduled for tomorrow. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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