No Comment — December 11, 2008, 11:15 am

Politics and the Federal Prosecutor

The indictment of criminal complaint filed against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is getting ample attention on a number of fronts. The political entertainment value of the materials filed with the indictment, particularly including the transcripts of some internal conversations, is hard to beat. The FBI agent’s affidavit clearly furnishes the guts for a solid Broadway drama, and, who knows, maybe even a good movie.

But while Blagojevich garners withering attention, and is more properly the province of Washington Babylon, it seems to me that there is another character who requires appraisal: Patrick Fitzgerald. Scott Shane got off to a good start with a piece in yesterday’s New York Times in which he reviews Fitzgerald’s career. It made me think of a tale that an alumnus of the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s office, a contemporary of Fitzgerald’s, recounted to me recently–while acknowledging that it might be pure legend. Fitzgerald, he said, had a reputation as the most work-obsessed young assistant prosecutor on a staff of workaholics. His social life was thought to be non-existent. But once Fitzgerald invited a young woman he was dating over to his bachelor’s apartment. His date made a horrifying discovery: opening his oven, she found a dish of lasagna, covered with mold. It had evidently been sitting there for weeks. Fitzgerald, it seems, lived off of take-out and rarely spent an evening at home in his apartment.

At a time when the Department of Justice’s reputation has sunk to its modern low point, Fitzgerald stands as a model of the selfless service a rigorous and principled professional prosecutor can provide. He has tackled and excelled with difficult cases, and often enough has struck at the political world. That is shown by the three cases that form of the core of his record: the prosecution of Governor George Ryan, the investigation of the leaks that blew the cover of a CIA covert agent named Valerie Plame that later resulted in the conviction of Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and now the indictment of Governor Ron Blagojevich, Ryan’s successor.

Fitzgerald’s handling of each of these cases reflects toughness but also a sense of all the ethical rules and concerns that Robert H. Jackson spelled out in his speech “The Federal Prosecutor.” He targets crimes, not people; he works hard to build a solid case on clear evidence. When he doesn’t have the evidence, he doesn’t bring the case–for which both Karl Rove and Dick Cheney can be thankful.

The Blagojevich indictment came down the same day another prosecuted Governor, Don Siegelman of Alabama, argued his appeal in Atlanta. These prosecutions offer a stark study in contrasts. Just as the Siegelman case demonstrates a malicious, political manipulation of the criminal justice system by prosecutors with a suspect agenda, the Blagojevich case presents a study in how a politically sensitive case is properly managed and brought to the fore. Fitzgerald’s statements as the charges were announced also offer a demonstration of understatement, focusing on the ideals to be upheld.

It seems obvious that Patrick Fitzgerald should be retained as U.S. attorney in Chicago and allowed to handle this case to its conclusion. But that’s not enough. Is there a prosecutor in the federal system who has done more to win the respect and admiration of the public than Patrick Fitzgerald? Eric Holder and Barack Obama should consider putting him in charge of the operations of the Department as Deputy Attorney General. It would send a simple, necessary message to the country: the days of politics in the administration of justice are over. The theme of the day will be professional integrity.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2016

Trump’s People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Old Man

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Long Rescue

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

New Television

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Improbability Party

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Helen Ouyang on the cost of crowd-sourcing drugs, Paul Wood on Trump's supporters, Walter Kirn on political predictions, Sonia Faleiro on a man's search for his kidnapped children, and Rivka Galchen on The People v. O. J. Simpson.

The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.

Photograph (detail) © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Article
Trump’s People·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"All our friends are saying, load up with plenty of ammunition, because after the stores don’t have no food they’re gonna be hitting houses. They’re going to take over America, put their flag on the Capitol.” “Who?” I asked. “ISIS. Oh yeah.”
Photograph by Mark Abramson for Harper's Magazine (detail)
Article
The Long Rescue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

He made them groom and feed the half-dozen horses used to transport the raw bricks to the furnace. Like the horses, the children were beaten with whips.
Photograph (detail) © Narendra Shrestha/EPA/Newscom
Article
The Old Man·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.

Illustration (detail) by Jen Renninger
Article
New Television·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

With its lens shifting from the courtroom to the newsroom to people’s back yards, the series evokes the way in which, for a brief, delusory moment, the O. J. verdict seemed to deliver justice for all black men.
Still from The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story © FX Networks

Amount an auditor estimated last year that Oregon could save each year by feeding prisoners less food:

$62,000

Kentucky is the saddest state.

An Italian economist was questioned on suspicion of terrorism after a fellow passenger on an American Airlines flight witnessed him writing differential equations on a pad of paper.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today