Fitzgerald's Justice Ranking Rankles Chicagoans
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Among the Justice Department documents sent up to Congress, is one that ranks U.S. attorneys. Chicago's U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, was listed among those who had, quote, "not distinguished themselves." That was in March 2005 while Patrick Fitzgerald was on special assignment investigating the CIA leak case, which ended recently with the conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
In Chicago, many who know Fitzgerald's work are surprised, as NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER: Since coming home to Chicago in 2001 after a stellar career as a federal prosecutor in New York, Patrick Fitzgerald has filled up an even more impressive resume. Under his leadership, the U.S. attorney's office has taken on the mob, alleged funders of terrorism and powerful politicians.
So for Kyle Sampson, the attorney general's former chief of staff to rank Fitzgerald among those who have not distinguished themselves, shocks people who have seen Fitzgerald in action.
Mr. JAY STEWART (Executive Director, Better Government Association): I think that assessment is completely off base and is ridiculous, to be blunt.
SCHAPER: Jay Stewart heads the non-partisan, Chicago-based Better Government Association.
Mr. STEWART: I'm hard-pressed to think of the U.S. attorney who's done more to distinguish themselves in the last several years than Pat Fitzgerald.
SCHAPER: In addition to winning the conviction of former White House aide Lewis Libby on perjury charges, Fitzgerald, last year, got a conviction of former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan for political corruption. And it's not just Republicans feeling the heat. Fitzgerald's office is now investigating the Democratic administrations of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Stewart says Fitzgerald has proven to be as apolitical as they come.
Mr. STEWART: And there's a genuine fear amongst the political class here in Illinois, that if they've done something wrong there's a very good chance that Pat Fitzgerald is going to get them.
SCHAPER: Jim Wagner, who heads the non-partisan Chicago Crime Commission, is equally surprised.
Mr. JIM WAGNER (President, Chicago Crime Commission): He's been a very independent leader of this office, and has been a breath of fresh air for Chicago.
SCHAPER: Wagner questions the criteria used to give Fitzgerald a mediocre rating. E-mails released to Congress indicate that as officials in the Justice Department and the White House discussed replacing U.S. attorneys in 2005, Sampson rated all 93 prosecutors, grouping them into three categories.
At the top were those he called strong U.S. attorneys, who exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general. The next group he recommended removing, calling them weak U.S. attorneys, who have been ineffectual and have chafed against the administration's initiatives. The third group, including Fitzgerald, had not distinguished themselves, either positively or negatively.
Professor STEVEN LUBET (Law, Northwestern University): It's impossible not to wonder about the relationship between the Valerie Plame Wilson investigation and the stunningly, surprising ranking that was given to Mr. Fitzgerald.
SCHAPER: Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet says it's perfectly reasonable to expect federal prosecutors who are political appointees to follow the administration's law enforcement policies and priorities.
Prof. LUBET: But it doesn't mean that its their job to pursue partisan goals, and it is chilling to think that a U.S. attorney would have to worry about his or her job for failing to pursue starkly partisan or politicized objectives.
SCHAPER: Lubet and others say ranking superstar prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald mediocre just raises more questions about the true motives behind the firings of eight other U.S. attorneys.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
MONTAGNE: And you can read Justice Department e-mails and learn more about the firings of the U.S. attorneys on our Web site, npr.org.
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