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When Patrick Fitzgerald announced corruption charges against Illinois' governor yesterday, it was just the latest in a string of high-profile take-downs for Chicago's U.S. attorney. Fitzgerald has prosecuted terrorists, mobsters and most famously, the vice president's chief of staff. NPR's Ari Shapiro has this profile.

ARI SHAPIRO: There are more than 90 U.S. attorneys in the country. Some are chosen for their political connections, others for their campaign donations. Patrick Fitzgerald was chosen for his reputation as a prosecutor. He earned that reputation in part on a major al-Qaeda prosecution in New York. Aitan Goelman worked on the case.

Mr. AITAN GOELMAN (Attorney, Zuckerman Spaeder): If you are a criminal defendant or a criminal suspect, I mean, you would rather have pretty much anybody else than Pat Fitzgerald on your case.


Mr. GOELMAN: He is very dogged. He is very organized. He learns his cases so that he has just an encyclopedic knowledge of the facts and the evidence. He is a quick study.

SHAPIRO: When Fitzgerald arrived in Chicago to lead the U.S. attorney's office in 2001, he inherited a massive public corruption investigation. It led to Illinois Governor George Ryan. Fitzgerald announced the charges at a press conference, much like the one he held yesterday.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Illinois): What we're alleging in the indictment is that basically, the state of Illinois was for sale.

SHAPIRO: Patrick Collins was one of the lead prosecutors on the Ryan case. He says after the indictment, Fitzgerald asked for a list of all of the agents who had been involved. He wanted to thank them each personally.

Mr. PATRICK COLLINS (Attorney, Perkins Coie): For agents, it's a little bit like meeting Elvis in some respects. And when folks got an atta' boy letter from Pat, it very quickly got framed and went up on the wall.

SHAPIRO: When Governor Ryan was sentenced to prison three years later, Fitzgerald again stood in front of the cameras.

Mr. FITZGERALD: We hope that somewhere out there, at some point, will - people stop and think and look at what's happening and realizing how, just, horrible corruption is, what it does to other people, what it does to the victims and last, what it does to the people who get caught doing it. Maybe at some point, it'll sink in, and this will stop.

SHAPIRO: Of course, corruption did not stop, and Fitzgerald's reputation grew. In 2005, the Justice Department was investigating which Bush administration official leaked the identity of a CIA agent. The attorney general recused himself, so oversight of the case went to Jim Comey, the deputy attorney general and a good friend of Fitzgerald.

(Soundbite of 2005 recording)

Mr. JIM COMEY (Former Deputy Attorney General, Justice Department): I have today delegated to Mr. Fitzgerald all the approval authorities that will be necessary to ensure that he has the tools to conduct a completely independent investigation, that is, that he has the power and authority to make whatever prosecutive judgments he believes are appropriate without having to come back to me or anybody else at the Justice Department for approvals.

SHAPIRO: Some people have argued that Fitzgerald was given too much power, that he went overboard when he eventually charged Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, with lying under oath. Fitzgerald defended his actions. He said the truth is the engine of the judicial system.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Any notion that anyone might have that there is a different standard for a high official, or that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice or perjury, is upside down. If we - if these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice as perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs.

SHAPIRO: Libby was eventually convicted on all but one of the five counts. Fitzgerald has never sought out the limelight. He almost never agrees to interview requests. He did make one exception last year, for a game show, the NPR program "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" When asked why he agreed to be on the show, Fitzgerald said...

(Soundbite of NPR show "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!")

Mr. FITZGERALD: Literally, I was trying to get tickets to the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Fitzgerald described growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he worked as a janitor and a doorman.

(Soundbite of NPR show "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!")

Mr. FITZGERALD: It was an interesting experience. It was fun, but you had people calling up on the Fourth of July complaining about fireworks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FITZGERALD: And asking you to stop them. And you said, yes, and you hung up.

SHAPIRO: New presidents traditionally replace U.S. attorneys with their own appointees, but President-elect Obama and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin have both suggested that they will probably ask Patrick Fitzgerald to remain in the job. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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