Aggressive Chicago prosecutor Fitzgerald to step down

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 11, 2012 5:14 PM
Aggressive Chicago prosecutor Fitzgerald to step down

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Patrick Fitzgerald, the aggressive U.S. attorney in Chicago whose investigations ranged from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to CIA leaks and two consecutive Illinois governors, said on Wednesday he would step down effective June 30.

Fitzgerald, 51, who has held the post since days before the September 11, 2001, attacks, is the longest-serving U.S. attorney in Chicago history.

He is known for taking a hard line on political corruption, and has overseen thousand of criminal cases, including organized crime bosses, former Chicago officials who rigged city hiring, and supporters of terrorism.

Fitzgerald also was lead counsel in the 2007 trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff and national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, which resulted in Libby's conviction on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Under Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney's office also convicted media baron Conrad Black.

Fitzgerald, who is married with two young children, has no future employment plans and will take time off this summer before considering career options, according to the U.S. attorney's office statement.

"He will be a tough act to follow - that's the understatement of the day," said Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, a Chicago-based political watchdog group. "He brought a level of commitment and passion and skill to that job that elevated it to a new level."

Shaw said Fitzgerald was "in a class of his own" because he had no political agenda, which was illustrated by his office's successful prosecution first of a Republican governor, George Ryan, and then a Democratic governor, Rod Blagojevich.

While Shaw said Fitzgerald did not wipe out political corruption in Illinois, he reduced it. "People think longer and harder about misbehaving in part because of the force of his office," said Shaw.

After Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama occupied before he won the 2008 presidential election, Fitzgerald said that authorities had halted a potential crime spree that would have made Illinois legend former President Abraham Lincoln "roll over in his grave."

Fitzgerald could make even the top levels of Washington power quake when he acted. Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's most powerful White House aide, was investigated by Fitzgerald in the illegal leak a CIA agent's name to a journalist.

Rove said in his book "Courage and Consequence," that when he learned in a letter from Fitzgerald in 2006 that he would not be prosecuted for his role in the scandal, he wept.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called Fitzgerald "a prosecutor's prosecutor" who served the American people "with the utmost integrity and a steadfast commitment to the cause of justice."

His arrival in Illinois rocked Chicago's political world because the city had been used to U.S. attorneys who were part of the local political and legal class.

Fitzgerald is a native of Brooklyn and graduated from Amherst College with a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics in 1982, and from Harvard Law School in 1985.

Before coming to Chicago, Fitzgerald had worked with the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, where he participated in the prosecutions involving the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

(The story has been refiled to correct reference to Lincoln as native to Illinois)

(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Doina Chiacu)