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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Fitz in Vanity Fair -- Pt. 3

On Fitzgerald's career as a prosecutor:
Eager to get into a courtroom, Fitzgerald passed up the judicial clerkships and Wall Street factories for Christy & Viener, a New York litigation boutique headed by Arthur Christy, a former United States Attorney. Christy encouraged him to become a federal prosecutor, and he applied in both Brooklyn and Manhattan; the Brooklyn office offered him a job on the spot, forcing him to filibuster until the more prestigious Manhattan office followed suit.


The US Attorney at the end of the Gambino trial, Mary Jo White, then made Fitzgerald chief of narcotics. But his tenure was brief because White needed him to assist on the most serious but difficult case in the office: the trial of Sheikh Abdel Rahman and nine co-defendants. It was a prosecution for which there was little law -- unable to find statutes covering bombings that never came to pass, Fitzgerald and his colleagues ultimately relied on a Civil War-era sedition statute -- and much of the evidence was diffused, from other countries, and in foreign language. Even when it was incriminating it could not always be used, for fear of compromising ongoing intelligence operations. Nor, initially, were there any cooperating witnesses. But, after nine months, all the defendants were convicted.
No cooperating witnesses...classified evidence that couldn't be used...all the defendants were convicted. I sure like the sound of that.
White then made Fitzgerald co-head of the organized crime and terrorism unit in her office, the nation's first. For the next two years, he immersed himself even more deeply in the shadowy world of Middle Eastern terrorism and the culture of al-Quaeda, poring over intelligence reports and translated documents, studying Islam -- including bin Laden's twisted version of it -- interviewing witnesses and defectors, and traveling throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia. "He was working very hard to learn where bin Laden was coming from," says a close associate. Several times, Fitzgerald met with Janet Reno. It as fascinating and challenging work, but not something for anyone craving headlines. "He didn't go around saying, 'Hey, look at me, I'm investigating bin Laden,'" says the associate. "A lot of people might have been tempted to boast a little bit or tell stories out of school, but that wasn't Pat's thing."
Regarding the bombing of the American Embassies in East Africa which killed 224 people:
The case he eventually put together, against four defendants, went to trial in early 2001. It was complicated legally and logistically, what with bringing witnesses, victims -- nearly 5,000 people were injured in the two blasts -- and their families from Africa to New York. And bin Laden's world was still terra incognita to the west: at one point Judge Leonard Sand, who presided, had to ask Fitzgerald how to pronounce "al-Quaeda." Working from memory, availing himself of what Kenneth Karas -- a colleague of Fitzgerald's who went to Africa with him and is now a Federal District Court Judge in Manhattan -- calls his "mainframe-computer brain," Fitzgerald laid out what he had. In late May he got his convictions, failing only to get the death penalties he sought for two defendants. After the verdict, when he walked into the room filled with people whose lives were scarred by the bombings, the group saluted him with a tribal chant of praise. "He oozed sincerity, had extraordinary command of the facts, and advocated well for his client," says Fred Cohen, one of the defense lawyers in the case. "At the end of his summations, you'd sort of cringe and say, 'What do I do now?'"
Scooter, you listening? Come to Jesus, Scooter.
On Mother's Day 2001 -- the only day Patrick Fitzgerald could get away from the trial -- Senator [Peter] Fitzgerald unveiled his choice to the Chicago press. Patrick Fitzgerald took over the office,for which he earns $140,000 annually, on September 1; Karas, a Chicago native, gave him a quick tour of his new city, which included taking in a Cubs game at Wrigley field. Dozens of loyal colleagues, many on shoestring government salaries, traveled to Chicago when Fitzgerald was officially sworn in. He returned to New York to pack his things and flew back to Chicago the morning of September 11, 2001. He heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon while driving into the city -- the news, he later said, was like a sledgehammer into his stomach -- and then, in his hotel room, he saw the Twin Towers fall. More than anyone watching that day, Fitzgerald could have said, "I told you so." But he apparently never has, even to close friends.


Fitzgerald also was consulted on crucial portions of the Patriot Act, specifically the provisions taking down the "wall" between the intelligence-gathering and prosecutorial functions of the government, and prepared for future prosecutions. "He was correctly recognized as the premier anti-terrorism al-Quaeda expert, sort of our go-to guy to bounce off ideas," says Viet Dinh, one of the principle draftsmen of the statute.
Regarding his aggressive pursuit of the kingpins of Illinois politics:
"Maybe the feds want to take over City Hall completely," the lawyer for one of the indicted officials has grumbled. "He goes after fleas and elephants with the same Bacchus," says David Axelrod, a Democratic political consultant and advisor to Mayor Daley. "At some point there's a line -- I don't know where it is exactly -- where you begin criminalizing politics in its most innocent form."
That David Axelrod is quite the idiot can be seen in this PBS clip on Fitzgerald, and any so-called "Democrat" who has to rely on GOP talking points to defend their position probably hasn't got much of one. But this is a big problem in doing a story on Fitzgerald; nobody wants to speak ill of the man and that's probably not because nobody has anything bad to say. He's put far too many people in jail for that. More likely a network of very powerful friends in all aspects of law enforcement make people who would otherwise blast him (like opposing defense attorneys) quite reluctant to do so at the moment.

Margolick says as much:
But given Fitzgerald's clout, some of his lawyer critics in Chicago won't even talk about him. "Another puff piece, eh?" one of them, Joseph Duffy, remarked when I asked him to discuss Fitzgerald. He then refused to elaborate and would not return phone calls.
Writing an article on someone when you can't get their critics to return your calls and at least provide some context or perspective is extremely tricky.
In the meantime, Fitzgerald has settled into his new community of Chicago, which marks an upgrade for him; he lives in a brownstone close enough for him to jog around Lake Michigan. Its furnishings show a woman's -- or a least a designer's -- touch, but not much else has changes, and he is apparently as single as ever. "When you meet him, you can see that he isn't going to cancel any plans to see you or make it to a party you've been invited to," says one woman who dated him for a time. "He keeps waiting for the next assignment to be over so he can see his family, get married, get a life, but he just never gets there."


Supporters and detractors alike agree that in Fitzgerald's Manichaean universe nothing is more heinous than lying, especially when the lie comes from a lawyer.
Hasn't Robert Luskin grown awfully quiet of late?
"Pat doesn't take the actions of a criminal personally," says David Kelley. "A criminal is expected to do that. A lawyer is not expected to lie." Perhaps, some speculate, this explains the fate of Scooter Libby, Columbia Law School '75, who claimed -- falsely, Fitzgerald insists -- that he had heard about Plame's C.I.A. ties only from reporters, and that he didn't even know if it was true. (Libby told Miller, according to the indictment.) Fitzgerald, his critics speculate, may be above partisan politics, but he is not above personal piqued.
They then go on to ruin a perfectly good article by introducing Joe DiGenova. I should restate my caveat about not being able to find a critic -- I mean a reliable critic and not a political hatchet man.
What's next for Fitzgerald after Plame and Chicago is anyone's guess. In a sense, he is checkmated; no other job would give him the rush he now enjoys. All of the cushy perches to which lawyers of his ilk usually parachute -- the fancy law firms and large corporations -- hold little appeal for him. He hasn't the stomach for elected office, and a high-level political appointment -- to head the F.B.I. or the C.I.A., or to become attorney general -- would require a politician bold, or desperate, enough to tolerate someone clearly beyond his control.
Ain't that the truth. It would take a politician of extreme courage to appoint someone with so little regard for "That's Just How Things Are Done" to a position where there were no reins to be quickly tightened. I feel quite certain that of all the decisions George Bush has made in office none rankle him so much as having delivered power into the hands of someone so uncontrollable.

Fitz in Vanity Fair Pt. 1
Fitz in Vanity Fair Pt. 2