U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the powerhouse prosecutor who helped put away two Illinois governors and a slew of other corrupt officials, is stepping down after 11 years. We talk with the head of the FBI in Chicago about Fitzgerald's imprint on Illinois. Then, Carol Marin and her panel discuss Fitzgerald's tenure in office and the future of the position on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm.
Chicago Tonight spoke with Cindi Canary, the former director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Read what she had to say in our Q&A.
What are your thoughts about Patrick Fitzgerald’s resignation?
Well, I think it’s really a loss for the people of Illinois. He’s done an absolutely tremendous job, and he has been very single-minded and incredibly successful in targeting public corruption. But, despite all he’s done, the job of fighting public corruption is not done.
What are some of his key accomplishments, in your opinion, during his tenure as U.S. attorney?
From my perspective, more than anything else, it was setting this tone of zero tolerance on public corruption. If that’s what you’re engaged in, that is unacceptable. There is no more “business as usual.”
It’s changing the public’s understanding of elected officials as to what public corruption is. The “good ole’ boys” network of politics of corruption is unacceptable.
What are some of his missteps or things he should have handled differently, in your opinion?
Who doesn’t make mistakes in their career, and in terms of the tone of things? We can all be armchair quarterbacks and critique, like in the first Blagojevich trial. But, at the end of the day, his victories were really pretty phenomenal. I think he has scared the political establishment pretty significantly. He has ruffled feathers, and I think that’s all to the good.
Are you concerned that he is leaving big shoes to fill for his future replacement?
I think that my sense is that there is public demand to see someone of similar caliber and intensity of focus take that job. Somebody who will continue to be very focused on public corruption. I’m not sure that what the public wants is the same as what the political establishment wants. Among elected officials, you hear, “he was prosecuting politics as opposed to corruption.” My hope is that the public will be outspoken in letting our senators know that the work Fitzgerald has done needs to be continued. We don’t want someone to come in and say, “that game’s over.”
Do you have any thoughts as to who would or should replace him?
A decade ago, when he came into office, there was lots of critiquing of [former Senator] Peter Fitzgerald of picking someone out of state. Now, 10 years later, we’re like, “no, don’t go!”
I think, as the search begins for somebody new, we know there’s tons of talent in Chicago, in Illinois, in the U.S. Attorney’s office. But the most important thing is to find someone strong, focused, smart and dedicated. And I hope that whoever they bring in has all those attributes.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Ten and a half years is a really long time to hold a job like this. Fitzgerald’s service to this city and this state has been really phenomenal, and I just wish him well…And I’ve never been indicted by Patrick Fitzgerald!
Several others released statements regarding Fitzgerald's resignation. Read them below.
Statement from Better Government Association President and CEO Andy Shaw:
“Patrick Fitzgerald will be a tough act to follow because his passion, dedication, commitment and professionalism is unparalleled. He came here from New York City without any political connections or party affiliation, and that enabled him to go after corrupt public officials in both parties without any political considerations.
“The best symbol of that is the two Illinois governors sitting in jail today -- one Republican, one Democrat. Some say he was overzealous -- squeezing witnesses too hard or entrapping unsuspecting politicians with aggressive surveillance tools -- but that's the only way to end the “Chicago way” or the “Illinois way.”
“Illinois residents owe him a debt of gratitude, and they owe former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald -- no relation -- a thank you for recruiting Pat from NYC. Let's hope that Sen. Durbin makes an equally enlightened recommendation for a replacement to President Obama, and that he consider going outside Illinois for another prosecutor, without any ties to local political parties.”
Statement from Attorney General Eric Holder about Fitzgerald's resignation:
“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.
“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.
“A hallmark of Pat’s tenure has been his personal commitment to the Department’s mission and his willingness to accept the call of duty – whenever it came and whatever it required. In 2003, he was appointed as special counsel in the investigation into the disclosure of the identity of a covert employee of the Central Intelligence Agency that resulted in the indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, then chief of staff and national security advisor to the Vice President. He also served as lead counsel in the trial, which resulted in Mr. Libby’s conviction on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. In 2010, I appointed Pat as Special Attorney to supervise the investigation that resulted in the pending indictment, in the Eastern District of Virginia, of former CIA officer John Kiriakou for allegedly repeatedly disclosing classified information, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.
“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.”
Statement from U.S. Senator Mark Kirk on the resignation announcement:
“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. I look forward to working with Senator Durbin to recommend a like-minded replacement so that we can continue to fight the $500 million corruption tax that Illinois families are forced to pay.”
Statement from Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady on Fitzgerald's resignation:
“I want to express deep gratitude for the diligent and difficult work that Patrick Fitzgerald has done for the citizens of Illinois over the past 11 years. We are fortunate to have had a tremendous watchdog in Mr. Fitzgerald - in a state that so desperately needs one.
“I want to also thank former US Senator Peter Fitzgerald, who had the foresight to buck the system and appoint a truly independent federal prosecutor to help clean up the mess in Illinois.
“I urge President Obama to move quickly to make a replacement for the Northern District of Illinois. Again, there may be no place in the country that needs an aggressive US Attorney more than Chicago and Illinois.
“Unfortunately, while we await the new appointment, we are stuck with Lisa Madigan to lead the charge on public corruption – an Attorney General who has put her family’s political interests ahead of her duties as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.”