Fitzgerald stepping down as US attorney in Chicago

May 24, 2012

By DON BABWIN, Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — In a city and state known for tenacious corruption, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald became known for equal tenacity in going after politicians of every stripe.

During more than a decade in Chicago, Fitzgerald put behind bars a former Republican governor and then his Democratic successor. He traveled to Washington to win convictions of a top aide to the vice president of the United States, and back home targeted an international media mogul and aides to one of the nation’s most powerful mayors.

On Wednesday, two months after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich walked into prison following Fitzgerald’s insistence he be tried a second time for trying to sell a Senate appointment, Fitzgerald announced he is stepping down after 24 years as a prosecutor.

Fitzgerald gave no reason for his decision to leave the presidentially appointed post he’s held since Sept. 1, 2001. During that time he’s overseen prosecutions of Blagojevich and former Gov. George Ryan, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and media mogul Conrad Black. He took on public corruption, international terrorism, corporate fraud and organized crime.

“Eleven years is a very long time in a very high-pressure job,” said Peter Fitzgerald, a former U.S. senator, no relation, who recruited Patrick Fitzgerald to the post and spoke to him about his decision. “I think it’s really hard … to divide responsibilities between family and job. I think he just felt it was time and also thought the office would benefit from new blood.”

Fitzgerald, who is married to a schoolteacher and has two young children, will hold a Thursday news conference but said in his statement that he wants take the summer off before considering other job possibilities.

“When I was selected for this position in 2001, I said that it was one of the greatest privileges that I could ever hope for,” he said in the statement. “I believe that even more now after having the privilege of working alongside hundreds of dedicated prosecutors and agents.”

Fitzgerald has been mentioned as a possible successor to FBI Director Robert Mueller. He has said he would never consider elected public office.

In fact, after being appointed by a Republican President George W. Bush and keeping his job under Democratic President Barack Obama, the intensely private prosecutor has never publicly made his politics known.

“He was one of the most non-political U.S. attorneys we’ve ever had … and in a town like this where everything is political, it is incredible to have a U.S. attorney like that,” said former state appellate Judge David Erickson.

Job prospects or no, the timing of Fitzgerald’s announcement makes sense, coming just after his office saw through Blagojevich’s imprisonment and the last major cases stemming from the yearslong investigation of the former governor.

It was that case that tested Fitzgerald like no other in Chicago.

From the day of Blagojevich’s 2008 arrest, when Fitzgerald famously characterized the former governor’s actions as a “political corruption crime spree” that would “make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” he has been scrutinized for the case.

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