Category: Archive

Echo Profile: Raisin’ blame

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

It’s a long, long way from Clare to here.
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, whose parents met in the United States after having immigrated from Co. Clare in the west of Ireland, now stands at the center of the most profound crisis to yet hit the Bush White House.
The results of the first generation Irish-American’s probe into the leaking of a CIA agent’s identity will play a key role in determining the president’s final legacy.
Fitzgerald announced last week that, as a result of his investigations, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby had been indicted on five counts by a grand jury. The charges against Libby are comprised of two counts of perjury, two counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice.
Libby resigned from his White House posts on the same day as the indictment was delivered. He was best known as chief-of-staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, though he was also Assistant to the President. He was a central figure in the discussions that led to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The president’s right-hand man, Karl Rove, is understood to remain under investigation by Fitzgerald, though the likelihood of him being indicted appears to have receded.
The chain of events that led Fitzgerald to seek the indictments is long and complex. In July 2003, a retired U.S. ambassador, Joseph Wilson, wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times and appeared on the NBC political show “Meet The Press.” In both forums, Wilson made essentially the same charge: that the administration had “twisted” intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Wilson said he spoke from experience. The previous year, he had been asked by the CIA to go to the African country of Niger. His mission was to look into reports that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium, a “key ingredient” for nuclear weapons, from the Nigerians.
Wilson said that he reported back that it was most unlikely any such transactions had taken place. He said he was then surprised when the administration appeared to ignore his alleged finding, and continued to suggest Saddam was seeking yellowcake from Africa. (There is disagreement over whether Wilson’s assessment was actually as unequivocal as he now suggests.)
Shortly after Wilson emerged into the public domain, conservative journalist Robert Novak wrote a column identifying Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative. Apparently unbeknownst to Novak, Plame was undercover. It is a criminal offense to expose the identity of a covert CIA agent under certain circumstances. The CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate who had leaked Plame’s name to Novak, and that, eventually, led to Fitzgerald’s appointment as Special Prosecutor.
Last week’s indictment announcement was easily the most high-profile moment of Fitzgerald’s career. However, his history does not suggest a man likely to crack under pressure.
Fitzgerald has been involved in numerous major cases, both before and since his appointment as United States attorney in Chicago shortly before Sept. 11, 2001.
He was a pivotal figure in the prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment under a Civil War-era law after an investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
His work has also led him into the labyrinthine world of Chicago politics, where he has pursued former Illinois governor George Ryan and an associate of the Windy City’s mayor, Richard Daley.
Recently retired Illinois senator Peter Fitzgerald, who is no relation to the prosecutor, told the Washington Post earlier this year about the process by which he came to recommend Fitzgerald to the White House for appointment as the U.S. Attorney in Chicago:
“I called [FBI director] Louis Freeh and said ‘who’s the best U.S. attorney you know of in the country?’ He said, ‘Patrick Fitzgerald in the Southern District of New York.'”
When the then-senator called the head of the bureau’s New York office, Mary Jo White, he received the same answer.
Not everyone is quite so impressed however. A lawyer who represented one of the defendants in a trial over the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, criticized Fitzgerald’s purportedly black-and-white worldview to Time magazine:
“He’s a bit of a moralist, an up-by-his-bootstraps Catholic boy with a strong sense of right and wrong,” David Baugh said. “He’s like a Bing Crosby movie. He needs to get out more.”
In the controversy surrounding the jailing of the New York Times’ Judith Miller, Fitzgerald also found himself regularly in the crosshairs of the Times’ editorialists and columnists.
In September 2004, an op-ed column by William Safire excoriated Fitzgerald for “his campaign to undermine the tradition of protecting the confidentiality of a journalist’s sources” and for “harassing the Times’s intrepid Judith Miller.”
While it is true that Fitzgerald’s quest to get testimony from Miller and other journalists including Time’s Matthew Cooper and NBC News’ Tim Russert did not win him many friends in the Fourth Estate, he can now argue with some persuasiveness that their testimony played a crucial role in bringing his investigation to a point where charges could be leveled against Libby.
Fitzgerald’s rise to the top of the legal world has been rapid, but not easy. His father worked as a doorman on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, apparently never taking a day off.
His son’s intelligence was obvious from an early age — he won a scholarship to the Jesuit-run Regis High School. Fitzgerald also worked as a doorman during his summer vacations from Amherst College.
“I’m very indebted to my parents,” he told the Washington Post in February. “They were very hardworking, straight, decent people. The values we grew up with were straight-ahead. We didn’t grow up in a household where people were anything but direct. I’m hoping that if you’re a straight-shooter in the world, that’s not that remarkable.”
His work ethic was conspicuous even at Amherst and, later, at Harvard Law School, where he also showed the passion for rugby that continued through much of his twenties. His fondness for the sport, and his sociability — despite his workaholic lifestyle, he is reputed to enjoy the occasional drinking night out, and to have a keen sense of humor — ensure that he avoids slipping into nerdishness.
Fitzgerald’s friends, however, seem to have an abundance of stories that illuminate his bachelor ways. While living in New York, he apparently stored papers on top of his cooker, safe in the knowledge that he never used it. Elsewhere, his rare attempts at domesticity seemed to end badly — one tale has him cooking two pans of lasagna, only to forget about them, and discover them still in the oven months later.
Such stories give Fitzgerald a kind of crumpled charm. But the battle in which he is involved is deadly serious. No one can know how the affair will end. But one thing is certain: Fitzgerald will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of what he sees as justice.
“I think what we see here today, when a vice president’s chief of staff is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, it does show the world that this is a country that takes its law seriously; that all citizens are bound by the law,” he said, announcing the Libby indictment.
“But what we need to also show the world is that we can also apply the same safeguards to all our citizens, including high officials. Much as they must be bound by the law, they must follow the same rules.”

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