TOPICS > Politics

Profile: Patrick Fitzgerald

August 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH BRACKETT: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has only been in Chicago for four years, but he has made them tumultuous ones for some local politicians.

His latest target: Top officials in Mayor Richard Daley’s office. In July, Fitzgerald said the city had engaged in massive hiring fraud in order to make sure those with political connections got jobs.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: People engaged in sham interviews and falsified the scores of the interviews in order to make sure that certain pre-selected candidates won jobs.

On one occasion a list of five people were picked to win the jobs based upon interviews, yet the person died before the interview actually happened.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: These newest charges are the result of a nearly two-year-old federal investigation, in which 30 people with ties to city hall have been charged.

Twenty-two have been convicted; most after pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with the federal investigation. The mayor flatly denies he has been involved with any hiring irregularities.

MAYOR RICHARD M. DALEY: I’ll tell you, I don’t know of any, per se, political hiring on the basis of political hiring. I do not do the hiring, John. Departments do the hiring. Every other department do the hiring. I do not do the hiring.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, was of course famous for the political patronage system he operated.

DAVID AXELROD: When I went to see Daley–

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Daley political consultant and ally David Axelrod says Richard M. Daley does not operate like his father.

DAVID AXELROD: In the 17 years that I have worked with the mayor, I have never heard him talk about jobs, I’ve never heard him talk about contracts.

I’ve heard him talk about schools and housing and roof gardens and fencing and museums, and the kinds of things that he thinks enhance the city.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The mayor denies any involvement in political hiring. But some aldermen in Chicago’s city council say it’s the way the city works.

Alderman William Beavers says the U.S. attorney has gone too far.

WILLIAM BEAVERS: I think what he’s trying to do is trying to dictate to city hall how to do hiring. The federal government hires on the patronage system. The city should hire on the patronage system. There’s nothing wrong with recommending somebody.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What angers long-time Alderman Bernard Stone is Fitzgerald’s decision to bring criminal charges against those who engaged in political hiring.

BERNARD STONE: Nobody has ever dealt with it on a criminal basis. The only one who’s ever called it a criminal matter is this current U.S. attorney. Either we’re a country of laws or we’re a country where the U.S. attorney decides that we are what he says we are.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Fitzgerald hasn’t been shy about going after big-name targets. Two years ago, he charged former Republican governor George Ryan with doling out favors to friends in exchange for money and free vacations.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: What we are alleging in the indictment that basically the state of Illinois was for sale, for friends and family at times, and it was cronyism where contracts were awarded to people, people were given inside information, they were acting upon it, and at times George Ryan stepped into the process to make sure that those interests were taken care of. And that should not be happening.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Fitzgerald’s actions in Illinois come as no surprise to the man who recommended his appointment in 2001, former Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald — no relation.

FORMER SEN. PETER FITZGERALD: I’m here today to tell you that I believe that Pat Fitzgerald is the best person to serve as U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Illinois.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Former Sen. Fitzgerald says he knew Patrick Fitzgerald would be diligent in taking over the ongoing federal investigation of Governor Ryan.

FORMER SEN. PETER FITZGERALD: The allies of the governor were pressuring me to try and put someone in office who would see things more favorably to the governor, and so I was very concerned that whoever I recommended as U.S. attorney be someone who is totally independent.

And in finding Patrick Fitzgerald, I found someone of unquestioned independence and integrity and truly top-notch ability.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Patrick Fitzgerald was an unusual choice. The son of Irish immigrants, he had grown up in Brooklyn and had no ties to Chicago. High school took him to Manhattan, where his good grades got him into Regis, a prestigious Jesuit high school.

He continued to excel in college and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College, then went on to Harvard Law School where he graduated in 1985.

He sent mobster John Gambino to federal prison as a young prosecutor in New York in 1993. He also went after Osama bin Laden before he became a household name, and convicted four of his associates for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies. That was after he had put five defendants behind bars in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

Colleagues say Fitzgerald is a workaholic who appears immune from political pressure. Dean Polales worked with Fitzgerald during his first three years in Chicago.

DEAN POLALES: I don’t think Democratic or Republican Party politics has anything to do with the way he does his job. And I think his track record in Chicago demonstrates that — when dealing with political corruption cases, he’s an equal opportunity prosecutor.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So it comes as no surprise to anyone in city hall here in Chicago that Patrick Fitzgerald is aggressively pursuing the evidence in the Valerie Plame leak case in Washington, D.C.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Appointed as a special prosecutor in the case in December of 2003, Fitzgerald has brought top White House officials before the grand jury, and jailed Judith Miller of the New York Times for failing to appear. Daley ally Axelrod thought the pursuit of Miller pointed up Fitzgerald’s shortcomings.

DAVID AXELROD: This is a guy who spent his life in the prosecutor’s office, never really lived and worked elsewhere, and he sees the world in very stark terms — good and evil, black and white.

There’s never any gray in Patrick Fitzgerald’s world. And so he goes after people — indiscriminately, in my view — whether large or small, and uses very broad interpretations of the law to do it because he thinks that’s the right thing to do.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It’s Fitzgerald’s dedication to his job as a prosecutor that makes him so effective, says Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass.

JOHN KASS: He’s not interested in running for public office.

So if you’re in the White House and you have anything to do with that leak or lied about it, or if you’re in city hall and pretend you don’t know what’s going on, I think, you know, you should be worried because a guy like that is a dangerous man.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Peter Fitzgerald is worried about the U.S. attorney’s future.

FORMER SEN. PETER FITZGERALD: Patrick Fitzgerald’s term of office is up at the end of September or early October, and there will be an effort to remove him and to put someone else that the local politicians can trust to do their bidding.

They’ll try and put someone like that in the office and remove Patrick Fitzgerald, and I’m very concerned about that.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Patrick Fitzgerald would never lobby for his job, but he has made it clear that he would like to keep it.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: I’m just going to do my job until someone tells me otherwise. I love my job.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And Fitzgerald is plowing ahead. Former Governor Ryan’s trial on corruption charges will begin in the fall.