Inquiry as Exacting As Special Counsel Is
Monday, October 24, 2005
CHICAGO, Oct. 23 -- Patrick J. Fitzgerald's final witness was behind bars, refusing to testify, and no one was budging. Hunting for room to maneuver, the special counsel talked with one side, then the other. He drafted a letter that nudged the witness and needled I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff.
Three days later, Libby put fingers to keyboard and told New York Times reporter Judith Miller that she was freed from her promise to protect his identity. He praised her mightily and urged her to "come back to work -- and life." Satisfied, she quit jail after 85 days, testified to Fitzgerald's grand jury and surrendered details she had vowed never to reveal.
Miller's testimony carried Fitzgerald one step closer to the climax of his investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's name, an inquiry that a federal judge termed "exhaustive" and President Bush called "dignified." In typical fashion, the Chicago prosecutor interceded personally, with a blend of toughness and flexibility, and pocketed what he needed.
Fitzgerald's most difficult and contentious choices -- whether to seek criminal charges -- remain to be announced, possibly this week. Yet in a case with huge political stakes for the White House, a portrait is emerging of a special counsel with no discernible political bent who prepared the ground with painstaking sleuthing and cold-eyed lawyering.
So far, Fitzgerald has given neither Republicans nor Democrats grounds to question his motives as he excavated the machinations of a White House that prided itself on its discipline and its ability to push its pro-war message. He did not blink, lawyers and witnesses say, and he did not leak.
News organizations have complained bitterly that Fitzgerald fractured the special relationship between reporters and their sources. White House allies have warned that he will criminalize routine Washington political transactions or impute a coverup where no provable original crime occurred. But federal judges have strongly backed Fitzgerald, who presented secret evidence to persuade an ideologically diverse appeals court that someone committed "a serious breach of public trust."
Fitzgerald, 44, is investigating allegations that Bush administration officials illegally leaked CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity to reporters to discredit her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who challenged White House justifications for the Iraq war. Evidence suggests senior officials including Libby and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove were more deeply involved in the events than the White House initially said.
Fitzgerald was recruited to the case in December 2003 by close friend James B. Comey, deputy attorney general to John D. Ashcroft. He was two years into a posting as Chicago's U.S. attorney, a job he won partly because he was a seasoned outsider with no evident political agenda, qualities that inspired Comey to appoint him to a case with powerful partisan overtones.
Known for convicting Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and for compiling the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden, Fitzgerald is an Irish doorman's son who attended a Jesuit high school, then Amherst College -- where he was a Phi Beta Kappa mathematics and economics major -- and Harvard.
He registered to vote in New York as an independent. When he discovered that Independent was a political party, he re-registered with no affiliation. Illinois citizens know him for pursuing Republicans and Democrats with equal fervor. Former governor George Ryan (R) is on trial on corruption charges, and a growing number of aides to Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) face influence-peddling charges.
Famous among colleagues for remembering minutiae, he keeps extraordinary hours while handling the leak investigation and managing a Chicago office with more than 150 lawyers. Dick Sauber, an attorney for Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in the leak case, said Fitzgerald "worked the case down to the small details. He was the one who knew the obscure fact in a document and knew where to find it."
Fitzgerald laughed at portrayals of himself on Comedy Central, but he was never coy when talking business, said Sauber, who recalled warning Cooper that jail would certainly be next if he lost his appeal.