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Columnist
Fitzgerald shouldn't be browbeaten for doing his job
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/23/2010 12:04 AM

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So, Patrick J. Fitzgerald's middle name is now "Jerk."

The Federal Titan of Northern Illinois is also "nuts," according to Rod Blagojevich's defense lawyer and part-time psychoanalyst Sam Adam Sr.

The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are calling for Fitzgerald's head on a platter.

Perhaps his once-revered cranium could be placed on one of those fancy silver serving dishes that the late Dan Rostenkowski lifted from a congressional gift shop.

Fitzgerald's big boss, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, would know right where to find such a platter. Mr. Holder prosecuted Chicago's beloved Rep. Rostenkowski in 1994 and had him sent to prison for converting postage stamps and Capitol Hill trinkets to cash and padding his public office payroll.

But Holder wasn't hogtied and beaten with the scales of justice for taking down Rostenkowski. He was eventually promoted to the top criminal justice position in the land, Attorney General of the United States.

Fitzgerald, though, is being castigated from coast to coast. For what? Doing his job?

I am no prosecutorial apologist, having exposed and reported on countless abuses of power and misconduct by agents of the government the past 30 years.

Nor am I a friend of Fitzgerald's or particularly enchanted by his mere presence.

He follows orders from Washington as a solid public servant is bound to do. His role as a special prosecutor of sensitive political cases - across party lines - would have been by the book if there was one.

His attention to important cases - from terrorism to organized crime to political corruption - has been laudable. The hardworking tone and attention to detail that he seems to have set from the top have produced some remarkable cases. Convictions and jail time, a prosecutor's Holy Grail, should be considered a high rate of return on federal tax dollars.

On the day Blago was arrested in late 2008, Fitzgerald described it as a political corruption crime spree stopped in progress. That pronouncement has since been picked apart as an overstatement and exaggeration. It was, however, exactly what the charges were and what the tapes and witnesses showed.

If charging a sitting governor with trying to sell appointment to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President Barack Obama, trading legislation for campaign contributions and shaking down business executives can't be described as a corruption crime spree, then what can?

Fitzgerald's crack about "Lincoln turning over in his grave" at the sight of Blago in federal custody for such dastardly deeds was surprising only because it came from him. Rudy Giuliani used to make similar headline-grabbing announcements all the time when he was the U.S. Attorney in New York City. Other prosecutors and law enforcement officials do the same.

On the same day Blago was arrested, at the very same event where the Lincoln/grave quip was made, Chicago's FBI boss Rob Grant said "if (Illinois) isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it is one hell of a competitor."

Mr. Grant is still solidly in place and has not been recalled to Washington for downgrading.

After watching Fitzgerald recite the minutia of indictments at news conferences without coming up for air, hearing the nuts and bolts prosecutor emit some emotion in public was refreshing on that day almost two years ago.

Sure, it was "outside the four corners of the complaint" as has been widely noted, and maybe he deserved to have his mouth washed out with some French-milled soap from the bar association bathroom. However, considering the passion for justice that seethes within Fitzgerald and his disdain for public servants who pleasure themselves at our sacrifice, it was only a matter of time before such a feeling surfaced.

And is it really fair to browbeat Mr. Fitzgerald for pledging to retry ex- Gov. Blagojevich on the charges that could not be decided? Do we really want prosecutors deciding which high officials they will let off the hook? Especially since we now know that only one juror prevented convictions on several of the major charges?

Imagine if Fitzgerald had stood in front of the cameras and said: "I have decided to ignore the crimes Blagojevich committed, the crimes that witnesses saw and participated in and the crimes that the governor discussed on tape. Although my job is to prosecute people who commit federal crimes and even though I can and should retry Mr. Blagojevich, he's had enough punishment already. So let's just all hold hands and sing a quick chorus of Kumbaya."

As Fitzgerald regroups, Mr. Blagojevich traveled between network TV studios in New York last week trying to reinvent himself as a poster boy for errant prosecutions. He is Illinois' favorite guest star only because Drew Peterson is still locked up and unavailable to sit in the same seats.

Blagojevich's week fittingly finished at a comic book convention in Rosemont where he was selling autographs for $50 each. That actually seems to be a good deal considering that when Blago was still governor his signature on some legislation cost $50,000 in campaign donations, according to federal witnesses.

These Blagojevich festivities will continue until Fitzgerald makes his next case, a trial schedule is set or Blago cuts a plea bargain.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald will weather the storm, although he might fall from the list of America's 50 sexiest men.

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie