Patrick J. Fitzgerald Biography



Prosecutor

Born December 22, 1960, in New York, NY; son of Patrick Sr. (a doorman) and Tillie Fitzgerald. Education: Earned degrees in mathematics and economics from Amherst College; Harvard University School of Law, J.D., 1985.

Addresses: Office —United States Attorney's Office, 219 S. Dearborn St., Rm. 500, Chicago, IL 60604.

Career

Worked as a doorman, deckhand, and janitor in the early 1980s; in private practice as an attorney, 1985–88; Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, assistant attorney, 1988–96, and National Security Coordinator, 1996–2001; U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, 2001—; appointed special counsel for a U.S. Department of Justice Investigation, 2003.

Sidelights

Patrick J. Fitzgerald was a relatively unknown government attorney in late 2003 when he was appointed special counsel in charge of a criminal investigation that, two years later, would implicate senior staffers at the White House. He was charged with uncovering the source of a leak, or disclosure of classified information, involving the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative. Fitzgerald, who had served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois since 2001, won praise from both sides of the ideological fence for his handling of the investigation that became known as "Plamegate, " after the agent, Valerie Plame.

Born in December of 1960, Fitzgerald grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Irish immigrants, and his father worked as a doorman for a Manhattan residential building. One of four siblings in the Roman Catholic family, Fitzgerald attended Regis High School in Manhattan, known for its rigorous academic program. At Regis he emerged as a talented member of the debate team before heading on to Amherst College, where he majored in economics and mathematics. He earned tuition money during the summer months by working as a doorman at a building down the street from his father's post, and also by serving as a deckhand on the commuter ferries that plied New York harbor.

Fitzgerald went on to Harvard Law School, and practiced at a firm for three years after earning his degree in 1985. In 1988, he was hired as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the district that includes New York City, and spent the next several years prosecuting drug-trafficking and organized-crime cases. He was involved in the trials related to the Gambino crime family, which resulted in several convictions, including that of notorious mob boss John Gotti. Fitzgerald soon developed a reputation as a brilliant legal strategist who possessed a photographic memory as well as a talent for unearthing obscure laws on the books which inevitably resulted in jury convictions.

One of the prime examples of that latter skill was Fitzgerald's work on the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case. With a blind Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, and eleven other defendants in the dock, Fitzgerald applied a rarely used sedition law dating back to the Civil War era to convict them. The prosecutor eventually became somewhat of an expert in Islamic fundamentalist groups, and in 1996 was named National Security Coordinator for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. An early predictor of the dangers posed by Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, Fitzgerald was designated to serve as chief counsel in prosecutions of those suspected of carrying out bombings on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, which again resulted in successful convictions.

Fitzgerald was nominated to become U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois on September 1, 2001. His appointment was confirmed by the Senate several weeks later, and Fitzgerald moved to Chicago, where he and his team of 160 attorneys launched a major probe of government corruption in the state. Less than five years later, former Illinois governor George Ryan had been prosecuted and faced up to 20 years in prison for bribery and lying to investigators. Fitzgerald's campaign, which netted a bipartisan roster of wrongdoers, also reached into the Chicago mayor's office, and in this case he relied on a mail-fraud statute usually deployed for organized-crime cases in order to prosecute some of the defendants.

Fitzgerald was still technically in charge of the U.S. Attorney's office in the northern half of Illinois when he was named special counsel for the White House leak investigation in December of 2003, which the U.S. Department of Justice had launched at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Plamegate story had unfolded over several months, beginning in February of 2002, when Vice President Dick Cheney asked Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador with a distinguished career, to undertake a secret mission to Niger in order to confirm reports that in the late 1990s Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had purchased uranium yellowcake from the country. The material is a lightly processed ore that can be refined into making weapons-grade plutonium. Wilson made the trip and found no truth to the report, which he delivered to administration officials. The claims persisted, however, and were repeated by Cheney and President George W. Bush, and became one of the Administration's series of justifications for the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. Four months later, irate that the yellowcake rumors were still being repeated by the White House, Wilson penned a blistering op-ed piece for the July 6, 2003, edition of the New York Times headlined, "What I Didn't Find in Africa."

Within days, conservative commentator Robert Novak had mentioned the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, in his widely syndicated column, noting that she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. But Plame was a covert operative—in other words, under no circumstances was it to be revealed that she worked for the agency, lest the lives of foreign nationals who provide intelligence information to the United States be endangered—and it was a violation of federal law to reveal such identities. Fitzgerald's investigation into who leaked her name to Novak resulted in the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, in October of 2005 on multiple counts of giving false statements to investigators, perjury, and obstruction of justice. Libby resigned, and Fitzgerald's team prepared for trial. The leak investigation also threatened to involve Karl Rove, a high-ranking White House official.

Fitzgerald rarely makes statements to the press or gives interviews. Friends and former colleagues divulge that he works long hours, once owned a cat but was rarely home to feed it, and occasionally takes mountain climbing or hang-gliding vacations. Unmarried, Fitzgerald is the subject of speculation that he may one day seek public office, but others note a more likely scenario is a future appointment as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Sources

National Review , November 21, 2005, p. 20.

Newsweek , July 25, 2005, p. 32.

New York Times , July 6, 2003.

Observer (London, England), February 12, 2006, p. 14.

People , November 14, 2005, p. 71.

Time , November 7, 2005, p. 39.

U.S. News … World Report , July 4, 2005, pp. 23–24.

Carol Brennan



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