Patrick Fitzgerald will leave office with a trail of political scalps and plenty of politicians who have been looking over their shoulders for more than a decade. Phil Rogers reports.
The man who said Abraham Lincoln would roll over in his grave if he knew that Governor Rod Blagojevich had tried to sell a senate seat is stepping down from his post.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney who made his name for taking down corrupt, high-profile politicians, Wednesday announced his resignation from the U.S. Attorney's Office effective June 30.
"I extend my deepest appreciation to the attorneys and staff for their determined commitment to public service," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "This was a great office when I arrived, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be a great office."
Fitzgerald, 51, lists two Illinois governors and a bevy of politically connected people to his list of convictions: Blagojevich, George Ryan, Ed Vrdolyak, Robert Sorich, Al Sanchez (hired truck), Issac Corothers, et. al. He has been the head of the Chicago U.S. Attorney's office for more than a decade, making him the longest serving U.S. Attorney in Chicago history.
“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. I have tried not to get in their way," Fitzgerald said.
George Ryan prosecutor Joel Levin thought he succeeded.
“He was not one to jump in and take over a case to try and get the credit for himself,” said Levin. “He does lend assistance and he provides meaningful guidance, but he lets the attorneys run the cases themselves.”
Levin added that Fitzgerald earned the respect of everyone he worked with along with the entire Chicago legal community. “He earned the respect, because he knew what he was doing," Levin said.
In a statement, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, "Our nation is fortunate to have public servants of Patrick Fitzgerald’s caliber and integrity.”
“When I first interviewed Patrick Fitzgerald for U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, he gave me his word that he would not show any political favoritism in his professional duties," Durbin said. "He kept his word.”
It goes without saying that not everyone is in the fan club. Blagojevich brother Robert Blagojevich, who beat a Fitzgerald prosecution, called the U.S. Attorney’s departure “long overdue”.
“He’s a public servant who amassed unmatched power, who overreached on prosecutions, and stayed too long” Blagojevich said. “People in authority were afraid to hold him accountable.”
Former Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam, Jr. was more conciliatory.
“I think he was a very good U.S. Attorney. I think he brought a lot of class to that position,” Adam said. “My problem is the way he went about it.”
Adam insisted the Blagojevich trial was an example of a case where cooperators got soft treatment.
“As long as you went in there and confessed your sins, they were forgiven. People who were real criminals got a pass, people who didn’t cooperate got the harshest sentence.”
Most, though, had nothing but nice things to say about how he did his job. Attorney General Eric Holder said Fitzgerald served "with the utmost integrity and a steadfast commitment to the cause of justice."
“Over the years, he has gained the trust of two presidents and the unwavering confidence of four Attorneys General, and I am deeply grateful to him for his service and his friendship over the years.”
Gov. Pat Quinn thanked Fitzgerald for rooting out corruption in Illinois.
“He has made Illinois a more ethical state by bringing justice to those who betrayed the public’s trust," Quinn said.
Sen. Mark Kirk chimed in too, saying, “No person has done more to clean up Illinois’ culture of corruption than Patrick Fitzgerald."
“After more than a decade of service to our state, including the conviction of two governors and countless other prosecutions, the people of Illinois owe him a debt of gratitude," Kirk said.