By SCOTT SHANE and DAVID JOHNSTON
Published: October 22, 2005
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 – In 13 years prosecuting mobsters and terrorists in New York, Patrick J. Fitzgerald earned a public reputation for meticulous preparation, a flawless memory and an easy eloquence. Only his colleagues knew that these orderly achievements emerged from the near-total anarchy of his office, where the relentless Mr. Fitzgerald often slept during big cases.
Patrick J. Fitzgerald leaving court in Washington last week. He is expected to decide soon whether to bring charges in the C.I.A. leak investigation.
Related Leak Case Web Site (October 22, 2005)
“You’d open a drawer, looking for a pen or Post-it notes, and it would be full of dirty socks,” recalled Karen Patton Seymour, a former assistant United States attorney who tried a major case with him. “He was a mess. Food here, clothes there, papers everywhere. But behind all that was a totally organized mind.”
That mind, which has taken on Al Qaeda and the Gambino crime family, is now focused on the most politically volatile case of Mr. Fitzgerald’s career. As the special prosecutor who has directed the C.I.A. leak investigation, he is expected to decide within days who, if anyone, will be charged with a crime.
To seek indictments against the White House officials caught up in the inquiry would deliver a devastating blow to the Bush administration. To simply walk away after two years of investigation, which included the jailing of a reporter for 85 days for refusing to testify, would invite cries of cover-up and waste.
Yet Mr. Fitzgerald’s past courtroom allies and adversaries say that consideration of political consequences will play no role in his decision.
“I don’t think the prospect of a firestorm would deter him,” said J. Gilmore Childers, who worked with Mr. Fitzgerald on high-profile terrorism prosecutions in New York during the 1990s. “His only calculus is to do the right thing as he sees it.”
Stanley L. Cohen, a New York lawyer who has defended those accused of terrorism in a half-dozen cases prosecuted by Mr. Fitzgerald, said he never detected the slightest political leanings, only a single-minded dedication to the law.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if he’s found something, he won’t be swayed one way or the other by the politics of it,” Mr. Cohen said. “For Pat, there’s no such thing as a little crime you can ignore.”
Mr. Fitzgerald, 44, whose regular job is as the United States attorney in Chicago, is a hard man to pigeonhole. The son of Irish immigrants – his father, Patrick Sr., was a Manhattan doorman – he graduated from Amherst College and Harvard Law School. Though he is a workaholic who sends e-mail messages to subordinates at 2 a.m. and has never married, friends say the man they call Fitzie is a hilarious raconteur and great company for beer and baseball. Ruthless in his pursuit of criminals, he once went to considerable trouble to adopt a cat.
“He’s a prankster and a practical joker,” said Ms. Seymour, who now practices law in New York, recalling when Mr. Fitzgerald drafted a fake judge’s opinion denying a key motion and had it delivered to a colleague. “But he’s also brilliant. When he’s trying a complicated case, there’s no detail he can’t recall.”
Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed in December 2003 by James B. Comey, then the deputy attorney general and an old friend, to investigate the disclosure in a column by Robert Novak of the identity of an undercover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Wilson, also referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who had traveled to Niger on behalf of the C.I.A. to check on reports that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium there, had publicly accused the White House of twisting the evidence to justify war against Iraq.
Lawyers involved in the case say Mr. Fitzgerald appears to be examining whether high-level officials who spoke to reporters about the Wilsons sought to mislead prosecutors about their discussions. Those under scrutiny include Karl Rove, the top political adviser to President Bush, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
In grand jury sessions, Mr. Fitzgerald has struck witnesses as polite and exacting. Matthew Cooper, a Time magazine reporter who wrote about his two and half hours of testimony, said that the prosecutor’s questions were asked “in microscopic, excruciating detail.”
Before he testified, Mr. Cooper recalled that Mr. Fitzgerald counseled him to say what he remembered and no more. “If I show you a picture of your kindergarten teacher and it really refreshes your memory say so,” Mr. Cooper wrote, quoting Mr. Fitzgerald. “If it doesn’t, don’t say yes just because I show you a photo of you and her sitting together.”
Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who wrote about her two grand jury appearances, said that Mr. Fitzgerald asked questions that reflected a deep knowledge of the leak case as he led her through her dealings with Mr. Libby.
Mr. Fitzgerald has drawn criticism from press advocates for his aggressive pursuit of journalists he believes may have been told about the secret C.I.A. employment of Ms. Wilson. Ms. Miller served nearly three months in jail this summer before agreeing to testify. In pursuing leads that have made him a threat to the White House, Mr. Fitzgerald is following a pattern set by previous special prosecutors. Some allies of the White House complain privately that he has taken on some of the worst traits of his predecessors. Republicans criticized Lawrence E. Walsh for his handling of the Iran-Contra scandal in the Reagan administration, while Democrats attacked Kenneth W. Starr’s performance in the Whitewater probe and Monica Lewinsky sex scandal under President Clinton. The two prosecutors operated under the independent counsel law, which both parties let die in 1999.
Katy J. Harriger, a political scientist at Wake Forest University who has studied special prosecutors, said that Mr. Fitzgerald had some advantages over his predecessors. He has essentially all the powers of the attorney general to chase evidence, question witnesses and seek charges. Unlike Mr. Walsh and Mr. Starr, both former judges, Mr. Fitzgerald is a career prosecutor. And as a Bush administration appointee, he is less vulnerable to attack from the White House.
“It will be much harder than it was with Starr to say this is a partisan prosecution,” Ms. Harriger said.