washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Style
Page 2 of 4  < Back     Next >

The Prosecutor Never Rests

So the senator, who as the state's senior Republican had the right to recommend a candidate to the White House, went to one of Hoover's successors for advice.

"I called Louis Freeh and said, 'Who's the best assistant U.S. attorney you know of in the country?' He said, 'Patrick Fitzgerald in the Southern District of New York.' " The senator then called Mary Jo White, who ran the New York office. Same question. Same answer.


"If you're not zealous, you shouldn't have the job," says U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, whose subpoenas of reporters have prompted complaints. (John Gress For The Washington Post)

At the time, Patrick Fitzgerald was trying suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He thought the call from a senatorial aide was a practical joke by one of his buddies. But as soon as their interview was over, the senator knew he had his man.

"I thought, 'He is the original Untouchable,' " Peter Fitzgerald says. "You could just see it in his eyes that he was a straight shooter. There were no levers that anyone had over him. He had no desire to become a partner in a private law firm. He has no interest in electoral politics. He wanted to be a prosecutor."

World Class

For years, Fitzgerald has avoided receiving mail at his apartment because of the threat of a letter bomb from one murder-minded defendant or another.

The staff of the 9/11 commission called him one of the world's best terrorism prosecutors. He convicted Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and all four defendants in the embassy bombings, which had left 224 people dead. He extracted a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino and became an authority on bin Laden, whom he indicted in 1998 for a global terrorist conspiracy that included the African bombings.

"His thoroughness, his relentlessness, his work ethic are legendary," says terrorism expert Daniel Benjamin, a former member of the National Security Council.

Seeing Fitzgerald in action, says Los Angeles lawyer Anthony Bouza, a college classmate, is "like watching a sophisticated machine." Colleagues speak in head-shaking tones of Fitzgerald's skills in taking a case to trial. A Phi Beta Kappa math and economics student at Amherst before earning a Harvard law degree in 1985, he has a gift for solving puzzles and simplifying complexity for a jury.

He's no slouch at stagecraft, either. At the trial of a Mafia hit man, the defense argued that a ski mask -- part of what Fitzgerald called a "hit kit" that included surgical gloves, a gun and hollow-point bullets -- was really just a hat. (The defense also said the surgical gloves were for putting ointment on the defendant's ailing dog.) During closing arguments, Fitzgerald startled the jury by rolling up one leg on his lawyerly dark suit.

"These are just shorts, ladies and gentlemen," he said, according to one account. "These are just shorts."

Into the Scrum

People who know Fitzgerald describe him as anything but a stuffed shirt. During a key moment in one New York trial, he slipped a note to his co-counsel, who interrupted questioning to read it to himself. It said, "Is there beer in the fridge?"

Fitzgerald's parents, born on opposite sides of Ireland's County Clare, met in the United States. They raised their son in Flatbush and guided him to a scholarship at a Jesuit high school. He worked as a school janitor in Brooklyn to make money for college and spent summers opening doors at an upscale co-op building on East 72nd Street in Manhattan. (His father worked at a building on East 75th, just off Madison Avenue.) It is part of Fitzgerald lore that he bit his tongue when rich apartment dwellers talked down to him as "just the doorman."

After law school, he spent three years in private practice before fleeing to the prosecution side. In the New York days, his married friends chided him about his workaholic, overachieving, hopelessly bachelor life. One time, visiting the small Brooklyn studio where Fitzgerald lived, a lawman noticed papers piled on the gas stove. Don't worry about the fire hazard, Fitzgerald told him -- "I've never turned it on."

"The advantage he had over me," Comey says, "was he was much smarter and he had no life. He could sit there and never go home. Fitz would go in there and just sit and read through files. It would almost be as if he was photographing them."


< Back  1 2 3 4    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company