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Column: What Does the Blago Verdict Mean for Chicago U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald?

Patrick Fitzgerald/doj photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Soon we’ll get the verdict in the Blago II trial and we’ll start to evaluate what it means for Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. The jury begins the fifth day of deliberations on Thursday.

The first trial did not bode so well for Fitzgerald, the rock star among U.S. Attorneys. The jury convicted ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich on only 1 of 24 counts — and that was for lying to the FBI. It wasn’t even a count central to the key charges of shaking down folks and trying to sell President Obama’s Senate seat.

Some argued it was still a victory — particularly those who know Fitzgerald well. They said a felony conviction is a felony conviction, even if it’s on just one count.

I disagree. I say in order for this to be considered a victory for Fitzgerald and his prosecutors, they have to get a conviction on a central count. A conviction on key counts would provide some vindication for Fitzgerald.

What would another embarrassing outcome mean for Fitzgerald?

Probably not a whole lot.

Another embarrassing outcome might tarnish his star power a little. But people forget. And he’s had a lot of big victories in big cases in Chicago. And no one can forget that he came to Washington for a stint as  a dragon slayer — as a special prosecutor —  and convicted Scooter Libby in 2007.

The first Blago trial may have hurt his chances when the White House was recently  considering a replacement for FBI Dir. Robert S. Mueller III (though that has become a moot point since President Obama now wants to keep Mueller on for two more years beyond the 10-year term).

Interestingly, FBI agents who, in general, prefer an ex-agent as a director rather than a prosecutor — seemed Ok with Fitzgerald as a potential replacement.

Nonetheless, the talk inside the Beltway was that the White House wasn’t wild about  the swagger — very Eliot Ness like — that he displayed before the media  when he first announced the charges against Blago in December 2008.

The swagger along with the embarrassing outcome didn’t help. This White House seems to like Robert Mueller’s low-key, fly-under-the-radar style.

So in the end, whatever the outcome in Blago II, Fitzgerald will remain the U.S. Attorney in Chicago.

And frankly, whatever the outcome,  the Blago case won’t short circuit many of his options in the future –including, who knows, even  a run for governor, the office once held by Blago himself.


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