WASHINGTON — Fair to say, during his seven-year reign as Chicago’s U.S. Attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald has been relentless. He’s gone after ex-Gov. George Ryan, Gov. Rod Blagojovich and Tony Rezko, a political fundraiser with links to President-elect Barack Obama. He came to Washington as a special prosecutor and rattled the town, sending one reporter off to jail, dragging political operative Karl Rove before a grand jury and prosecuting Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.
Now, with the Obama transition, comes speculation about the future of the Bush appointee many in the Justice Department consider a “prosecutor’s prosecutor.”
Hall talk – a term they use over at the Justice Department, is that Fitzgerald, a Harvard Law School graduate, may be tapped to run the criminal division or even serve as deputy attorney general to Eric H. Holder Jr., Obama’s choice to run the Justice Department, or become the U.S. Attorney for New York, Fitzgerald’s hometown. The deputy attorney general post-considered the most political of the three – is probably the least likely.
There’s a good number of folks in Illinois, mostly Democratic and Republican politicians and
their supporters, who want the prosecutor moved. Certainly some of those people wouldn’t cry if he was removed from the Justice Department all together – a move one source says would be “gut-wrenching” to Fitzgerald.
Others want Fitzgerald to stay in Chicago to continue chasing criminals.
An appointment to any of the highly-coveted posts in Washington or New York could be
considered a reward. But some skeptics on the left and right say it may be a way for the Obama administration to remove the feisty prosecutor from the Illinois landscape where some feel he’s overstepped and overstayed.
Most agree he would be an “excellent” selection for Washington or New York.
Even so, such an appointment would fly in the face of a campaign pledge by Obama to leave the prosecutor in Chicago where his investigations have led to the indictment and conviction of scores of public officials including former Gov. George Ryan, who is serving time in a federal prison in
Wisconsin for corruption charges. In Washington, Fitzgerald, as a special prosecutor in Washington, helped convict Vice President Richard Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, on charges stemming from the unmasking of former CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson.
If Fitzgerald is named chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, many insiders
would consider it a promotion. Others in Justice say it would be a lateral move, but an important job nonetheless.
Then there’s a little complication.
“He really likes Chicago. He married a local gal,” says one source.
Fitzgerald wed Chicago school teacher Jennifer Letzkus in June.
“The smart thing would be to make him deputy a..g.,” although that job may be too political for Fitzgerald, the source said, adding that he thinks that job be “highly unlikely.” Another possibility is to
make him the U.S. attorney in New York, regarded as the highest profile U.S attorney’s post in the country. “He’d love that.”
Fitzgerald was raised in Brooklyn, a son of a Manhattan doorman. He also worked there as an assistant U.S. Attorney where he helped prosecute mob figure John Gotti.
The Obama transition team declined to comment. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fitzgerald, said the prosecutor had “absolutely no comment whatsoever.” on the matter. A spokesman for Chicago Mayor
Richard M. Daley also declined to comment.
News of the possible out of town move would reverberate in Illinois.
Bernard Schoenburg, the veteran political columnist for the Springfield Journal Register, said the Justice Department’s gain would be Illinois’ loss.
“He has the reputation for being a straight shooter and tough prosecutor,” Schoenburg said. “He was not warmly received in some quarters when he arrived in Illinois. He has gone after people in a nonpartisan way and been pretty effective.”
Fitzgerald was behind the recent conviction of Tony Rezko, a financier and fund-raiser who has been connected to several Illinois Democrats including Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Obama.
Schoenburg said that Blagojevich has seen several of his associates indicted and convicted. Obama has not been named as a target in the Rezko case.
Fitzgerald has also gone after the Republicans. Besides ex-Gov. Ryan, he’s gone after his co-defendant Lawrence Warner and his political operative Scott Fawell. In all, about 80 Illinois political figures have been convicted in the corruption probes during his reign. That has not sat well in the great state of Illinois, which has a long history of chicanery.
According to the Chicago Tribune, which in an editorial urged Obama to keep Fitzgerald in Illinois, testimony in Rezko’s trial alleged that several high-ranking Republicans conspired with the Bush administration to force out Fitzgerald.
Schoenberg simply calls Fitzgerald a “hard-driving, straight shooter” and “not in it for the ego.”
“It would be a great disappointment if he leaves Illinois.”