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.

Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

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


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today