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Inquiry as Exacting As Special Counsel Is

Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has been lauded for his nonpolitical investigation of the CIA leak case.
Special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald has been lauded for his nonpolitical investigation of the CIA leak case. (By Joshua Roberts -- Getty Images)

Someone present when Fitzgerald questioned a witness said he was glad not to be a target.

"He's that really strict judge that everyone fears, not because they think he's going to do the wrong thing, but because they're afraid he might do the right thing," said the source, who has ties to the White House and requested anonymity.

"As White House staffers," he continued, "you had generals and Cabinet secretaries being deferential to you. He didn't care what you'd done or how well you knew the president."

Chuck Rosenberg, U.S. attorney in Houston, said Fitzgerald's doggedness is legendary.

"Pat takes the same approach to all his cases. He works them harder and knows them better than any soul on the planet," Rosenberg said. "I'll sometimes ask Pat a question about something in my district. Not only will I get an e-mailed answer dated at 2 o'clock in the morning, but it will go on for three single-spaced pages."

While supervising at least four lawyers and an FBI team in the leak case, Fitzgerald jetted between his downtown Chicago office and borrowed space at 1400 New York Ave. NW, not far from the courthouse where the grand jury meets most Wednesdays and Fridays. In its first 15 months, the investigation cost $723,000, according to the Government Accountability Office.

"He keeps the investigation within the team," said an attorney who works with him in Chicago. Such discretion frustrated defense lawyers, potential targets and reporters alike. As one figure told Time, "If he played his cards any closer to the vest, they'd be in his underwear."

Fitzgerald and his team started with basics, assembling many details before formal questioning began. They cast a wide net for evidence of a conspiracy within the Bush administration, scouring phone records and visitor logs. They tracked a State Department document to Air Force One and obtained notes and correspondence from the upper echelons of the White House. They delved into the deliberations of the White House Iraq Group, created in August 2002 to help the administration build support for the war.

Privately or in front of the grand jury, the special counsel questioned Bush, Cheney, former secretary of state Colin L. Powell and former CIA director George J. Tenet, along with many aides and spokesmen, particularly on Cheney's staff.

To exhaust all possibilities, Fitzgerald questioned a number of witnesses under oath even when he was confident they could add little to the grand jury's knowledge.

Legal sources say he studied inconsistencies and forgotten facts from witnesses, including Rove, whose early testimony differed from Cooper's recollections. Rove, who spoke to the grand jury four times, changed his story after failing to mention that he discussed Wilson and his wife with the Time correspondent.

A critical early success for Fitzgerald was winning the cooperation of Robert D. Novak, the Chicago Sun-Times columnist who named Plame in a July 2003 story and attributed key information to "two senior administration officials." Legal sources said Novak avoided a fight and quietly helped the special counsel's inquiry, although neither the columnist nor his attorney have said so publicly.

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