Who is special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?

By practically every account, Fitzgerald is the stereotype of the corruption-busting bulldog prosecutor made flesh. He is renowned not only for his relentlessness and epic work output, but likewise his inventiveness in applying the law to his targets. He first made a name for himself as an assistant US attorney for the southern district of New York, where he ran the Organized Crime/Terrorism Unit. The Ashcroft Justice Department appointed him US attorney for the northern district of Illinois just days before the September 11 attacks in 2001. His most famous Illinois case to date involved the prosecution of the state's Republican former governor, George Ryan, on a variety of corruption charges.

Fitzgerald refuses to talk about politics publicly, but one of his ideological passions is abundantly evident: He's a rock-ribbed national security zealot, and not just since 9/11. Back in the 1990s, Fitzgerald assembled the first US criminal indictment of a then-little-noted terrorism suspect named Osama bin Laden. More recently, Fitzgerald has argued with great enthusiasm on behalf of the Patriot Act, and he is chair of the attorney general's advisory panel on terrorism. If the Bush executive branch wanted someone who would soft-pedal a purported breach of national security, they may have made a very bad choice in Fitzgerald.

AP Photo/Lauren Shay

But the tales of Fitzgerald's superhuman integrity and resolve have to be set against the reality of his position. In the words of a glowing February 2005 Washington Post profile, "[Fitzgerald] insists that he has already advanced further than his imaginings, but he is clearly aware of his emerging star status. Asked about the notion of becoming FBI director after Robert Mueller, another prosecutor who quit private practice to put bad guys behind bars, he laughs. ‘That's probably Director Mueller when he's having a bad day, trying to unload it on somebody else.' He did not say he was uninterested, just that he is not thinking beyond his current job." But Fitzgerald is certainly canny enough to recognize that the number of prosecutors who have indicted members of sitting presidential administrations and gone on to the top post at the FBI is exactly zero, a number that is not likely to change. As the FBI's continuing suppression of rank-and-file whistleblowers attests, the Bureau and its friends on Capitol Hill loathe nothing more than the prospect of reformers in their ranks, let alone at the top. The Post profile further notes that Fitzgerald drew questions about political favoritism in 2004 for his election-year indictment of an alleged Hamas fundraiser after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft touted the case.

What is Fitzgerald trying to prove?

The grand jury investigation of the White House has resurrected a lot of Watergate-era catchphrases, none more apropos than the maxim "it's the cover-up, not the crime." If Fitzgerald does issue indictments, the primary charges will almost certainly not be violations of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, but obstruction of justice, perjury, and sundry other offenses stemming from White House staffers' efforts to conceal their role in outing Plame from federal investigators. Since the grand jury investigation story went large on July 2 with Michael Isikoff's Newsweek article confirming that Rove himself spoke to Matt Cooper of Time about Valerie Plame Wilson, the pattern of leaks in the case has militated entirely in this direction.

Seen in this light, the endless speculation about who told what to whom first may be part red herring. Rove is said to have told the grand jury that he first heard about Plame Wilson's CIA connection from reporters, not the other way around; he cited Bob Novak as one source and said he could not remember who the other was. Speculation has naturally centered on Judith Miller, the lone reporter caught up in the probe who has not talked to Fitzgerald at all. It would be a boon to Fitzgerald's case to demonstrate that the leak originated entirely in the White House, affording him one more prosecutorial bargaining chip. But for purposes of an obstruction of justice investigation, it probably doesn't matter much in the end whether it was reporters who first told the White House about Plame or the White House that first told reporters.

What are the key public disclosures in the case so far?

Since grand jury proceedings are secret, all we know at the moment is what has been leaked anonymously from inside the proceedings, mostly to reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg News Service, and to Isikoff. The two main revelations to emerge so far are that Rove spoke directly with reporters about Plame Wilson--despite prior grand jury rumors, few people, even among Rove's worst enemies, were entirely ready to believe he'd leave his own fingerprints on such a sensitive matter--and that a State Department memo written in July 2003 discussed Joseph Wilson's trip to Africa and identified his wife's CIA status in a paragraph marked Secret. It does not seem entirely clear when the memo passed into the hands of White House staffers, but grand jury witnesses have reportedly placed it in the hands of Colin Powell and then-press secretary Ari Fleischer on July 7, the day after Wilson's op-ed ran in the Times. That's one strike against Rove's claim that he heard about Plame's CIA job from reporters. Last Friday, Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post cited another in this succinct rundown of the conflicting stories to emerge from the grand jury so far:

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