Fitzgerald known as meticulous

Intense, by-the-book approach apparent in investigation


White House Indictment

October 29, 2005|By JOSH MEYER

WASHINGTON -- The reputation of Patrick J. Fitzgerald was well-known to colleagues, defense lawyers and others long before he brought criminal charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak investigation: meticulous, aggressive, intense and, most of all, by-the-book.

All those traits were on display yesterday as the special prosecutor delineated his reasons for seeking Libby's indictment by a federal grand jury. The traits were also on display in the charges themselves.

Within hours of the grand jury's indictments, Fitzgerald was being described by some critics as being overly cautious in limiting his charges to Libby, while others portrayed him as being overzealous and overreaching in his determination to bring any criminal case at all.

But according to some of Fitzgerald's legal associates, friends and former adversaries, Fitzgerald did just what they expected: He filed exactly what he believed the facts called for, no more and no less.

Some former colleagues and adversaries agree that Fitzgerald, 44, may come across as overly aggressive and even obsessive, especially given the creative and at times unprecedented legal tactics he has used to prosecute terrorists and mobsters.

But they predict that, if anything, Fitzgerald's obsessive nature will work in his favor in the CIA leak case - and against Libby and anyone else who may ultimately be charged with criminal misdeeds.

They describe him as being exceedingly careful and deliberate, and say he would only file charges if he is sure he is on solid legal footing and has gathered the evidence for a good - and winnable - case.

"One of the things that makes him so effective is that he is incredibly perceptive and insightful," said David N. Kelley, who successfully prosecuted many organized crime and terrorism cases with Fitzgerald. "He will dive into the facts and let the facts take him where they lead him [and he] is blinded by nothing."

Yesterday, Fitzgerald hinted at the scope and breadth of the investigation, saying that he and his team of FBI agents and prosecutors didn't spend almost two years looking to prove whether any one particular crime was committed.

"Investigators do not set out to investigate a statute," Fitzgerald said in a rapid-fire monotone. "They set out to gather the facts."

Fitzgerald's original mandate was to investigate whether someone in the government committed a crime by leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak and other journalists as part of an effort to discredit her husband, diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the war in Iraq.

But it is difficult to prove a violation of the federal law that prohibits disclosing the identity of an undercover agent. And Fitzgerald has often displayed a liking for perjury, conspiracy and other charges as a way to convict someone when the underlying charge is hard to prove.

So a few weeks after getting his marching orders, Fitzgerald requested, and obtained, additional "authority to investigate and prosecute violations of any federal criminal laws related to the underlying alleged unauthorized disclosure, as well as federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, your investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses," according to a memo made public last week.

The charges against Libby are perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

Fitzgerald also won unilateral authority to conduct appeals arising out of any prosecution, and the authority to pursue administrative remedies and civil sanctions.

Several FBI and Justice Department officials said Fitzgerald typically works far more closely than other prosecutors with the federal agents who conduct the interviews and gather the evidence that forms the backbone of a case.

He does so, they said, so there are no surprises when a trial gets under way, and no daylight between what the government alleges and what the evidence can prove.

In the Plame case, the FBI official said, Fitzgerald's attention to such evidentiary details could mean the difference between an airtight criminal prosecution and one that can be disassembled by experienced defense lawyers, particularly in such a politically supercharged environment.

Josh Meyer writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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