U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald: Untouchable Crime Fighter? Or, Politically-Driven Leaker? (Part 1)


By: Hugo Floriani, Investigative Reporter

Is the United States Attorney for the Northeastern District of Illinois an intrepid crime fighter, as he’s typically portrayed by most of the Chicago and national media?  Or, is the legend of a modern day Untouchable Elliott Ness largely a media-created myth?

The ABC News video below is from the June press conference following the conviction of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  It has about it a seriously surreal aspect.

At about 5:40 in the recording, Fitzgerald reports what everyone in the room already knows, and one reporter in the room knows better than all the others. “There was a leak to a newspaper article that indicated that Mr. Blagojevich was being recorded on,” he says.

Later in the press conference, reporters begin asking Fitzgerald – whose national reputation as a dogged plugger of leaks was built during his relentless pursuit of the person who revealed Valerie Plame’s identity as a Central Intelligence Agency employee – about the leak in the Blago investigation.  You’ll recall that Fitzgerald’s hunt for the Plame-leaker began in 2003, and ended in March 2007 with the conviction of Scooter Libby, after costing the taxpayers $2.58 million.  (Hold that thought. We’ll briefly revisit that saga in a later installment. It’ll help us answer the lede question.)

In the June 2011 press conference, the reporter sitting in the front row, slightly to Fitzgerald’s left, holding a tape recorder toward the podium is Chicago Tribune reporter John Chase.  He’s the slightly balding man, wearing a striped blue shirt and glasses. He carefully follows the questions other reporters ask about the “leak” that alerted Blagojevich that his conversations were being recorded by the FBI.  It’s reasonable he’d be interested, since he wrote the article to which Fitzgerald referred. Sitting right there with a front row seat as they talk about him. How ‘bout that.

Here’s a transcript of the intercepted phone conversation where Blago learns about Chase’s Tribune article in advance of its publication.


DATE: 12/04/2008
TIME: 10:29 P.M.
ACTIVITY: Rod Blagojevich home line incoming call.
P. BLAGOJEVICH: Patti BlagojevichGUERRERO: Lucio Guerrero
* * * * *
GUERRERO Hey Patti, this is Lucio.
GUERRERO Little late. Is the governor around?
P. BLAGOJEVICH Yeah, hold on.
GUERRERO Hey, sorry to call so...
11 GUERRERO You probably know this. Ah, Scofield
12 and I got a call from John Chase about
13 ten minutes ago. Uh, he said they're
14 writing a story for tomorrow's paper
15 that says as part of a federal
16 investigation they have recordings of
17 you and also, John Wyma's cooperating
18 with the feds. Uh, I've got calls out
19 to Quinlan, waiting to hear back. So
20 does Mary Stewart, I just haven't heard
21 back from him yet. I assume we're not
22 going to say anything but I want you to
23 know.
BLAGOJEVICH They have recordings of me and Wy-,
Wyma's cooperating with the feds? Who
said that?
GUERRERO John Chase. He said the story's gonna
say two things. He left me a message I
didn't pick up cause I wanted to hear
what he had to say. He said one, it'll
say it's the, as part of the federal
investigation they have recordings of
10 you. He doesn't say what it says on the
11 recordings. And, number two, that John
12 Wyma's cooperating with the feds.
14 GUERRERO So, like I say I have a call in... I, I
15 assume we're not going to say anything,
16 but I, just so you know that tomorrow's
17 paper, that's gonna be in there.
18 BLAGOJEVICH In the Tribune tomorrow?
19 GUERRERO Correct.
20 (PAUSE)
21 BLAGOJEVICH Recordings of me?
22 GUERRERO Correct.
23 BLAGOJEVICH On the telephone with Wyma, maybe?
24 GUERRERO I don't know. Like I said I didn't pick
25 up the phone. I didn't want to get into
26 it with him so that's what he left on
27 my, on my, ah, voice mail.
28 BLAGOJEVICH And where's Quinlan?
29 GUERRERO I don't know. I got, Mary's got,
30 calling him and I've called and emailed
31 him.
32 BLAGOJEVICH Alright, I'll get him. I'll call you
33 back. Bye.

Late in the press conference, the prosecutor who jailed New York Times’ reporter Judith Miller for 85 days for failing to reveal a source, displays a rather blasé attitude toward having a key element of his investigation leaked to the media.  Chase isn’t going to jail like Judith.  What’s up with that?

At about 16:14 in the video, Fitzgerald states, “I didn’t do it.”  The “it” refers to leaking the information to the Chicago Tribune.  Who said he did?

That’s probably a truthful statement.  Of course, the US Attorney for the Northeastern District of Illinois would never phone a Chicago reporter and leak sensitive information.  He’d have someone on his staff do it.

The question is – Why?

While you ponder that thought, here’s another.

In the press conference, Fitzgerald makes a plea for persons with knowledge of corruption to come forward and report that information to his office.  He repeated that theme recently when, on September 12, while speaking before City Club of Chicago, according to the Sun Times, he said,

“The one thing I find frustrating is that people view corruption as a law enforcement problem. If I had a dollar for everyone who has come up to me after we’ve convicted someone and said, ‘Yes, we knew he or she was doing that all the time but we wondered when someone was going to get around to doing something about it. And I bite my lip, but I wanted to smack them upside the head.”

He said the person who needs to do something about corruption is “you. It is my view that sometimes we say, ‘that’s the way it is in Illinois or that’s the way it is in Chicago.’ If you’re finding yourself saying that, what you’re really saying is, ‘That’s the way I will allow it to be.’

“You either speak up and do something about it or you’re part of the problem. That’s the only way to look at it.”

So, here’s another question:

If you’re a citizen with first-hand knowledge of corruption, why in the world would you take that information to a U.S. Attorney’s office that has a leak, particularly when the guy in charge doesn’t seem all that concerned about leaks?  Doing so could cause you unintended pain, if it got leaked to the wrong person, or persons.