Jennifer A. Fitzgerald, the State Department's deputy chief of protocol and a top aide to President Bush for more than two decades, has been charged with "gross misconduct" by the department's inspector general following an investigation into charges Fitzgerald brought undeclared fur coats into the country after a government trip to Argentina, according to administration sources.
The department's personnel office has recommended Fitzgerald be given 15 days of administrative leave without pay as a penalty, the sources said. Officials said that Fitzgerald was informed of the finding at least two weeks ago and was given 30 days to appeal. It was unclear yesterday whether she had accepted the finding or planned to appeal.
Sources said Secretary of State James A. Baker III and his top aides had taken a "hands-off" attitude toward the Fitzgerald case, directing the personnel department to handle the case, as one official put it, "through routine personnel procedures, as if she were any other political appointee without any special status." One White House source said Fitzgerald "was put in her job by the president, not the secretary, and it will be up to the president to decide her status."
Fitzgerald and the inspector general did not return calls.
Fitzgerald, who worked in the Nixon White House, went with Bush to China as his administrative aide when he was U.S. representative in Beijing. When Bush returned in 1975 to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Fitzgerald worked with him there.
She became Bush's top personal aide after he became vice president, but was moved to head the then-vice president's Senate office in 1985 when Craig L. Fuller took over the chief of staff position.
An anonymous call last December to the inspector general's "hot line" at the State Department triggered an inquiry, which eventually included the Customs Service, into Fitzgerald's actions.
Last April, the Customs Service fined Fitzgerald $648 for "misdescribing" the value of a fur-lined raincoat and failing to declare a silver fox cape she bought in Argentina, where she was attending the inauguration of President Carlos Saul Menem.