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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Fitz in Vanity Fair -- Pt. 2

I'm quite sympathetic to the plight of David Margolick, the author of the Vanity Fair piece on Patrick Fitzgerald. He's had to address the same problem I've been struggling with -- namely Fitzgerald is a very difficult person to get a grip on. A simple recitation of chronological facts is inherently uninteresting, and most people close to Fitz are unwilling -- or, as I came to believe, unable -- to give much insight into his character, despite my best attempts to cajole, charm, threaten and throttle them into doing so.

The nine page article segues quickly into the Libby press conference:
He started nervously, blurting out his words in shaky, sometimes garbled phrases. One could detect the shyness his friends routinely describe. Staring ahead blankly, speaking mechanically, he laid out his case against Libby as if reading it off a teleprompter. In fact, although he'd written something down beforehand, what he said was entirely extemporaneous; while the rest of Fitzgerald was still unwinding, his remarkable mind was already up to speed. The angst and awkwardness vanished once he took questions, and that made sense; he had always been better, more himself, in rebuttals than in opening statements. When he had to think on the fly, he could be sincere, joke or provoke, become Everyman. "We all have our shticks: his is the up-from-the-gutter Irish kid from a poor family," says a lawyer in the Plame case. "It's essentially authentic. But it's also served him well."

Again and again, reporters pressed Fitzgerald for specifics, not just about Libby but also about Dick Cheney (who had discussed Plame with his chief of staff before the leak), White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove (who had discussed Plame with at least two reporters), and Novak (who had outed Plame in his syndicated column, then, presumably, told Fitzgerald). They got only crumbs, but Fitzgerald doled them out entertainingly and ingratiatingly, appearing more forthcoming than he really was. Some non-answers came with humor, some with baseball metaphors or colloquialisms. There was none of the usual lawyerly stiffness and aloofness, nor was there elegance or eloquence. Fitzgerald was modest, self-deprecating, nimble, patient, accessible, even-tempered, reassuring, likeable, real. And the press quickly turned. Charles Laughton as Inspector Javert suddenly morphed into Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith or Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness."
Having read through the transcripts of that press conference repeatedly, I was struck with a similar observation -- Fitzgerald always seemed to be saying a lot more than he actually did. To use the term "false candor" implies a nefariousness that I don't intend, but the description is not far off. And it may explain why his friends have such unfailing loyalty to him without ever having any great insight into what makes him tick. He appears to be a lot more open than he actually is, to give away much more than he ever really does.
While the right-wing blogs remained unusually quiet -- Fitzgerald is, after all, a two-time Bush appointee -- on the left he was a hero.
I have no idea who they're talking about.
He is beloved as he is respected: 10 days after the press conference in Washington, he showed up at a dinner at the New York Athletic Club for a former colleague, and the hundreds of former and current prosecutors on hand twice gave him prolonged standing ovations, a tribute remarkable even in this cloistered, clubby world. Characteristically, he seemed vaguely embarrassed by it all.


Some defense lawyers say he has lived too long in a prosecutorial bubble, unable to see the other, sometimes more human side of legal issues. In another life, they say, he'd have been a priest. "He has an almost puritanical view of the world: you're either a sinner or you're saved," says David Rubnke, a lawyer in Montclair, New Jersey, who in another of Fitzgerald's signature terrorism trials, represented one of the four men linked to the 1998 bombings of American Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. But like many defense lawyers, Ruhnke says he liked, respected, and trusted Fitzgerald. "If he told you something, you could go to the bank with it," he says. "That's not true of all federal prosecutors."


For all the recent adulation, Fitzgerald's relentless pursuit of the case, and partaker of journalists, has left lingering wounds -- and doubts. "He should get a life," said one of the reporters he pursued.
Okay he only really pursued two reporters -- Judy Miller and Matt Cooper. And that sure doesn't sound like Matt Cooper.
"A lot of people most enthralled by him and the vigor of his pursuit of Libby and others and his sureness in his own virtue would be very upset at the same level of diligence if applied to dissidents or people whose views they happened to agree with," says a lawyer representing that reporter.
And that sounds just stupid enough to be Floyd Abrams.

Margolick did a good job of getting more historical bio stuff than I've yet seen, those details are like pulling teeth:
Fitzgerald was the third of the four children of Patrick and Tillie Fitzgerald, immigrants from "the other side" -- County Clare, Ireland -- who settled in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn; his father was a legendarily hardworking doorman at 14 East 75th Street, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. (One summer, young Patrick worked the same job not too far away, at 520 East 72nd Street, and according to a former classmate, would bite his tongue at the condescension of residents.)
Although it's a bit of projection on my part there's always been something quite revealing about this particular detail. My dad grew up very poor in Tennessee and went on to study ancient languages at Harvard and earned a Ph.D in philosophy from BU. He had similar experiences like this growing up and as an adult they left him with no thrall of power; he was habitually neither impressed nor intimidated by it. The anti-Judy Miller, so to speak. I've talked with FBI agents who confirm this about Fitzgerald -- many US Attorneys, fearful that their jobs come as the result of political appointment, will not pursue the wealthy and the powerful and spend their time going after small fish. Fitzgerald is considered somewhat unique for his willingness to go straight to the top from the get, something I've always felt very heartened by in the face of an administration with a history of bludgeoning everyone who dares cross them into quick capitulation.
By recess of his first day of sixth grade at Our Lady Help of Christians School, in Brooklyn, his classmates were already touting him as the smartest kid there, though he insisted on playing sports so as not to be considered an egghead.
Being the Smart Kid, social death. I get it.
"Patrick Fitzgerald was the benchmark for what you had to be," says Martin Snow, who went to grade school and high school with him. "It was one word: 'patrickfitzgerald.' People would say, 'What do you think, you're patrickfitzgerald?'" Last October, during Fitzgerald's press conference, Snow stopped all workouts at the gym he runs in Lower Manhattan so that he, and everyone else, could watch his old friend.
More later.