For more than a decade, until June 30, 2012, Fitzgerald was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Prior to his appointment, he served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York for 13 years and as Chief of the Organized Crime-Terrorism Unit since December 1995, where he participated in the prosecution of United States v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., United States v. Abdel Rahman, et al., and United States v. Ramzi Yousef Rahman, et al.
As special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel, Fitzgerald was the federal prosecutor in charge of the investigation of the Valerie Plame Affair, which led to the prosecution and conviction in 2007 of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby for perjury.
As a federal prosecutor, he led a number of high-profile investigations, including ones that led to convictions of Illinois Governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, media mogul Conrad Black, several aides to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in the Hired Truck Program, and Chicago detective and torturer Jon Burge.
Fitzgerald was born into a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent in Brooklyn. His father (also named Patrick Fitzgerald) worked as a doorman in Manhattan. Fitzgerald attended Our Lady Help of Christians grammar school, before going on to Regis High School. He received degrees in economics and mathematics from Amherst College, Phi Beta Kappa, before receiving his JD from Harvard Law School in 1985. He played rugby at Amherst and at Harvard he was a member of the Harvard Business School Rugby Club.
After practicing civil law, Fitzgerald became an Assistant United States Attorney in New York City in 1988. He handled drug-trafficking cases and in 1993 assisted in the prosecution of Mafia figure John Gambino, a boss of the Gambino crime family. In 1994, Fitzgerald became the prosecutor in the case against Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 others charged in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
In 1996, Fitzgerald became the National Security Coordinator for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. There, he served on a team of prosecutors investigating Osama bin Laden. He also served as chief counsel in prosecutions related to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
On September 1, 2001, Fitzgerald was nominated for the position of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois on the recommendation of U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (no relation), a Republican from Illinois. On October 24, 2001, the nomination was confirmed by the Senate. The Senator urged the selection because Patrick Fitzgerald is not from Chicago; Patrick said that he had visited Chicago only one day, for a wedding in 1982, before his selection.
Soon after becoming U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois, Fitzgerald began an investigation of political appointees of Republican Illinois Governor George Ryan, who were suspected of accepting bribes to give licenses to unqualified truck drivers. Fitzgerald soon expanded this investigation, uncovering a network of political bribery and gift-giving, and leading to more than 60 indictments. Ryan was indicted in December 2003. At the conclusion of the trial in April 2006, Ryan was found guilty on all eighteen counts against him. Ryan's co-defendant, Chicago businessman Larry Warner, then 67 years old, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud, attempted extortion, and money laundering. The two were sentenced on September 6, 2006: Ryan received a sentence of six and one half years, and Warner received a sentence of three years and five months.
Against criticism that these cases were based on circumstantial evidence, Fitzgerald responded: "People now know that if you're part of a corrupt conduct, where one hand is taking care of the other and contracts are going to people, you don't have to say the word 'bribe' out loud. And I think people need to understand we won't be afraid to take strong circumstantial cases into court."
On July 18, 2005, his office indicted a number of top aides to Democrat Richard M. Daley, the mayor of Chicago, on charges of mail fraud, alleging numerous instances of corruption in hiring practices at City Hall. An investigation announced on December 30, 2005 stated that it intended to review contracts between the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and vendors who signed leases to occupy the remodeled Illinois Tollway oasis. Fitzgerald's office investigated possible conflicts of interest between these vendors and one of Blagojevich's top fundraisers, Antoin Rezko.
In March 2006, former Chicago City Clerk James Laski pleaded guilty to pocketing nearly $50,000 in bribes for steering city business to two trucking companies. Laski was the highest-ranking Chicago official and Daley administration employee brought down by Fitzgerald's office in conjunction with the Hired Truck Program scandal. Beginning in April 2007, Fitzgerald oversaw Operation Crooked Code, the investigation and prosecution of over two dozen defendants for bribery and related charges in City of Chicago's Departments of Buildings and Zoning.
On December 9, 2008, federal agents arrested Governor Blagojevich for conspiring to profit from his authority to appoint President Barack Obama's successor to the U.S. Senate. Fitzgerald said Blagojevich "put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States Senator."
United States Senator Peter Fitzgerald chose not to run for reelection in 2004, leaving Patrick Fitzgerald without a congressional patron. In the summer of 2005, there were rumors that he would not be reappointed to a second four-year term in retaliation for his investigations into corruption in Illinois and Chicago government, as well as for his investigation of the Plame scandal. On May 23, 2012, Fitzgerald held a press conference informing the public that he was stepping down from his position and retiring as the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Federal Court effective June 30, 2012. Long-time prosecutor Gary S. Shapiro was named US Attorney until a replacement had been selected.
On December 30, 2003, after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the CIA leak grand jury investigation of the Plame affair due to conflicts of interest, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, acting as Attorney General in Ashcroft's place, appointed Fitzgerald to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel in charge of the investigation. Fitzgerald was well-known to Comey and was in fact already godfather to one of Comey's children.
On December 30, 2003, three months after the start of the Plame investigation, Fitzgerald was appointed Special Counsel (under Department of Justice regulation 28 CFR Part 600). Through this, Fitzgerald was delegated "all the authority of the Attorney General" in the matter. In February 2004, Acting Attorney General Comey clarified the delegated authority and stated that Fitzgerald has plenary authority. Comey also wrote "further, my conferral on you of the title of 'Special Counsel' in this matter should not be misunderstood to suggest that your position and authorities are defined and limited by 28 CFR Part 600."
On October 28, 2005, Fitzgerald brought an indictment for 5 counts of false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice against Lewis "Scooter" Libby, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff. Libby resigned to prepare for his legal defense. In his first press conference after announcing Libby's indictment, Fitzgerald was asked about comments by Republicans such as Kay Bailey Hutchison, who said "I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality..." to which Fitzgerald responded, "That talking point won't fly... The truth is the engine of our judicial system. If you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost... if we were to walk away from this, we might as well hand in our jobs."
By March 28, 2006, some bloggers were reporting that on the basis of interviews with people close to the Plame investigation, indictments against Rove or National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley were imminent. However, by mid-June 2006, it was announced that no charges would be brought against Rove. In early April, The New York Times ran a front page story linking Libby to a leak, supposedly ordered by Dick Cheney, that Iraq had been attempting to acquire uranium in 2002. By the thirteenth of the month, many media outlets, including the New York Times, retracted this story, after discovering that the basis of this claim was based on papers filed with the courts the previous week. These papers themselves were corrected via formal statements from Fitzgerald.
Robert Novak's testimony in Libby's perjury trial made it known that the two senior administration sources he cited in his article were Richard Armitage and Karl Rove. A month later Armitage claimed Fitzgerald had instructed him not to go public with this information. Journalist Michael Isikoff received confirmation from Rove's lawyer and from lobbyist Richard F. Hohlt that Rove was also faxed an advance copy of the article revealing a CIA covert agent's identity several days before it was published.
On March 6, 2007, Libby was convicted of 4 out of 5 charges of lying under oath. Fitzgerald announced on the courthouse steps that while he is always open to receiving new information related to the case, he expects to file no further charges, and the prosecutors would "return to their day jobs". Libby was sentenced to a $250,000 fine, 2 years of probation and a 2½ year prison term. After a court of appeals rejected Libby's attempt to delay the prison sentence while he appealed the verdict, President George W. Bush commuted the prison portion of Libby's sentence but did not commute the fine.
Two days after the verdict, Congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, announced that his committee would ask Plame to testify on March 16, in an effort by his committee to look into "whether White House officials followed appropriate procedures for safeguarding Plame's identity."
Investor's Business Daily ran an editorial, which stated: "From top to bottom, this has been one of the most disgraceful abuses of prosecutorial power in this country's history... The Plame case proves [Fitzgerald] can bend the truth with the proficiency of the slickest of pols."
In March 2007, Fitzgerald "was ranked among prosecutors who had 'not distinguished themselves' as opposed to "'strong U.S. Attorneys . . . who exhibited loyalty' to the administration" on a Justice Department chart sent to the White House in March 2005..." This was revealed in light of an investigation of the December 2006 firings of several U.S. Attorneys by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, perceived as being politically motivated and despite his previous Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in 2002. Two other prosecutors so ranked were dismissed. On July 2, 2007, President Bush provided a statement on his decision to commute Mr. Libby's prison sentence and noted:
"After the investigation was under way, the Justice Department appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald as a Special Counsel in charge of the case. Mr. Fitzgerald is a highly qualified, professional prosecutor who carried out his responsibilities as charged."
In April 2015, Judith Miller published an autobiography in which she, according to the Daily Caller, "now concluded, after reviewing old notes, that her testimony about her conversations with Libby that led to his conviction may have been false ... Had I misconstrued my notes? Had Fitzgerald's questions about whether my use of the word Bureau meant the FBI steered me in the wrong direction?"
On November 17, 2005, Fitzgerald brought criminal fraud charges against former Canadian media mogul, Conrad Black, as well as against three other Hollinger executives. The trial of Lord Black began at the Federal Court in Chicago in March 2007. Black was convicted on July 13, 2007 and later sentenced to serve 78 months in federal prison, pay Hollinger $6.1 million and a fine of $125,000.
On February 1, 2006, the U.S. Attorney's Office under Fitzgerald announced that it was indicting nineteen members of Risciso, a software and movie piracy ring, in U.S. District Court in Chicago. The lead prosecutor for the Government in this case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Pravin Rao. This prosecution was the result of an undercover investigation, Operation Jolly Roger, that was part of Operation Site Down—a law enforcement initiative by the FBI and law enforcement agents from ten other countries to disrupt and dismantle many of the leading warez groups that distribute and trade in copyrighted software, movies, music, and games on the Internet.
On December 9, 2008, Fitzgerald confirmed in a press conference in Chicago that Illinois state governor Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, had been arrested by the FBI early that morning on charges of corruption. Fitzgerald described Blagojevich's actions as the "kind of conduct [that] would make Lincoln roll over in his grave." Blagojevich was charged with mail fraud and solicitation of a bribe. According to Fitzgerald, Blagojevich attempted to sell off President-elect Barack Obama's open U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, as well as pressuring the Chicago Tribune to fire editors critical of the Blagojevich administration in exchange for state assistance in selling Wrigley Field. Fitzgerald said at the news conference that, "I laid [sic] awake at night", worrying about the possible firing of Tribune editors.
Critics of the prosecution included Victoria Toensing, a former Justice Department official, who wrote that prosecutors are allowed to "inform the public of the nature and extent" of the charges against the defendant, but cannot "[make] extrajudicial comments that pose a serious and imminent threat of heightening public condemnation of the accused". Toensing contends that prejudicial comments such as "[the] conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave" and that Blagojevich's actions represented "a truly new low" clearly violated this legal ethical standard.
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