Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who became the bane of mischievous public officials in his 24 years at the Justice Department, including more than a decade as the chief federal prosecutor in Chicago, is stepping down at the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
Fitzgerald, 51, announced on Wednesday that he would leave his post effective June 30. He said in a news release that he has no employment plans, and that he will take time off this summer to reflect on his future. That future is almost sure to offer chances for him to prosper in the law universe.
“When I was selected for this position in 2001, I said that it was one of the greatest opportunities that one could ever hope for, and I believe that even more now after having the privilege of working alongside hundreds of dedicated prosecutors and agents,” Fitzgerald said. “I have tried not to get in their way. I extend my deepest appreciation to the attorneys and staff for their determined commitment to public service. This was a great office when I arrived, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be a great office.”
Is Fitzgerald considering a run for public office? He has not said, at least publicly. While photographs of him do not convey the image of a baby-kisser or back-slapper, he was described in a 2003 New York Times profile as having a sense of humor to go with his “mainframe computer” mind.
Fitzgerald has headed the Northern Illinois office since September 2001. His trophies include two former Illinois governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., who was chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the leaked identity of a covert employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Fitzgerald prosecuted Libby, whose trial was held in Washington, D.C., early in 2007, after he was appointed special counsel in the case.
He was also appointed a special counsel in the case of John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who was indicted recently in the Eastern District of Virginia on charges of disclosing the name of a covert officer and leaking classified information.
In going after public officials, Fitzgerald has not hesitated to use his official muscle on journalists, including Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, who was jailed for 85 days, until she agreed to testify before a grand jury.
While with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York, Fitzgerald participated in the prosecutions arising from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Fitzgerald’s years as a prosecutor were also marked by the pursuit of organized crime figures, Medicare fraud perpetrators and others suspected of federal crimes.
Fitzgerald conveyed his decision to depart in messages to the White House, Illinois senators and Attorney General Eric Holder, who issued a statement heaping praise on the retiring prosecutor.
“Throughout his distinguished career as a prosecutor, United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has served the American people and the citizens of Illinois with the utmost integrity and a steadfast commitment to the cause of justice,” Holder said.
“From his early consequential years in New York City confronting the terrorist threat to his strong leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, Pat has rightly earned a reputation over these last 24 years as a prosecutor’s prosecutor, overseeing significant cases involving public corruption, international terrorism and terrorism financing, corporate fraud, organized crime, and violent crime,” Holder said.
A native of Brooklyn, Fitzgerald graduated Phi Betta Kappa from Amherst College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics in 1982, and from Harvard Law School in 1985. He is married with two young children.