Fitzgerald Leads Way on Plame Case

A grand jury continues to investigate who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame's name and whether any laws were violated. NPR's David Schaper reports on the special counsel leading the investigation, Justice Department prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald.

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Now we're going to take a look at a major figure in the Valerie Plame affair. It's not Plame or her husband, Joseph Wilson, nor it is White House chief of staff Karl Rove or columnist Robert Novak, reporter Matthew Cooper or Judith Miller, for that matter. It's the man who is behind the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame's name: special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. As a US attorney he has taken on terrorists, the Mafia and Chicago's City Hall. NPR's David Schaper has this profile of a man called both courageous and a runaway prosecutor.

DAVID SCHAPER reporting:

On a day last week when all of Washington and much of the nation buzzed about Karl Rove's possible role in the CIA leak investigation, the man leading that probe stepped up in front of cameras and microphones in Chicago.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (Special Prosecutor): Good afternoon.

SCHAPER: But his major announcement had nothing to do with what splashed across the front pages of newspapers across the country.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Earlier today, two city officials were charged as part of a scheme involving massive fraud in the hiring process that went back more than a decade.

SCHAPER: Those political corruption charges brought an evolving scandal at Chicago's City Hall right up to Mayor Richard Daley's doorstep. It's just one example of how Patrick Fitzgerald isn't letting his role as a special prosecutor investigating the White House take anything away from his day job, leading the third-largest US attorney's office in the nation.

Mr. GARY SHAPIRO (First Assistant US Attorney): He isn't gone that much.

SCHAPER: First assistant US attorney in the Chicago office Gary Shapiro.

Mr. SHAPIRO: I mean, in the last month, with this incredible level of public interest and news, I think the most Pat's been out of town in a week has been two days.

SCHAPER: Fitzgerald's work ethic shows in a number of other stunning local investigations. In September, his office will try former Illinois Governor George Ryan on corruption charges. In April, Fitzgerald indicted 14 reputed mobsters for crimes including 18 previously unsolved murders dating back to 1970 in one of Chicago's biggest ever mob busts.

Mr. JAY STEWART (Better Government Association): Best thing to happen to politics and government in the state of Illinois and Chicago in a long time.

SCHAPER: Jay Stewart heads the local watchdog group the Better Government Association and is one of Patrick Fitzgerald's many admirers.

Mr. STEWART: You know, all prosecutors are tough; he's a little bit tougher. All of 'em are hard workers; he works a little bit harder.

SCHAPER: The long hours worked by this 44-year-old son of Irish immigrants are just about the first things mentioned by those who know him. Former Chicago FBI agent Thomas Kinnear(ph) says if he needed to get ahold of Fitzgerald on a Sunday, the first place he'd try was the office. That dedication paid off with some of the nation's most significant pre-September 11th terrorism convictions and an indictment of Osama bin Laden when Fitzgerald worked in the New York US attorney's office. The September 11th commission staff called him one of the best prosecutors of terrorism in the world. David Ruhnke defended one of four people convicted by Fitzgerald in the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He calls Fitzgerald zealous, superprepared and trustworthy.

Mr. DAVID RUHNKE (Defense Attorney): He has a kind of a choirboy appearance about him that he matches with kind of a choirboy attitude in front of juries.

SCHAPER: Former US attorney for the southern district of New York, Mary Jo White says she could think of no one better than Patrick Fitzgerald to go after terrorists.

Ms. MARY JO WHITE (Former US Attorney): Because I considered him to be one of the very best lawyers in the office, and also someone who could keep his head in cases that had enormously complex and sensitive issues.

SCHAPER: That's also why White says she can't think of anyone better to investigate the Plame case.

Ms. WHITE: You know, he's totally independent. He will, you know, do what the evidence suggests should be done. I have complete confidence in that.

Mr. SHAPIRO: And he's also totally non-intimidated by the political process and by people in positions of power.

SCHAPER: Gary Shapiro is the first assistant US attorney under Fitzgerald in Chicago.

Mr. SHAPIRO: So he's very comfortable in doing a case whether it involves some local gangbanger or a case involving, you know, some of the most powerful people in the United States.

SCHAPER: Fitzgerald has been vilified on the editorial pages of The New York Times for going after journalists' anonymous sources. And the Chicago Tribune, which praises his prosecution of local political corruption, has told him to back off in the Plame case. But colleagues say Fitzgerald will leave no stone unturned, and that he wouldn't jail a reporter unless it was absolutely critical to his investigation. Defense attorney David Ruhnke put it this way.

Mr. RUHNKE: If I was whoever it was that leaked this name, I would not have been happy when I found out it was Pat Fitzgerald who was going to lead the investigation.

SCHAPER: Because Patrick Fitzgerald will follow the evidence wherever it leads, Ruhnke and others say--even to the White House. And he won't hesitate to prosecute if he finds a crime has been committed. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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