Fitzgerald marks 10 years as US attorney

September 12, 2011 3:11:53 PM PDT
He helped prosecute the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and the indictment of Osama bin Laden, now Patrick Fitzgerald is marking his 10th anniversary as US Attorney for Northern Illinois.

Fitzgerald spoke Monday about the improvements made to counterterrorism efforts in a post-9/11 world and his work now fighting political corruption.

Fitzgerald is now the longest serving US Attorney in Chicago history. His decade as top prosecutor in the region has seen remarkable change on the world stage and no shortage of public corruption cases on the local landscape. Those were touchstones in his speech to the City Club Monday.

Fitzgerald serves at the pleasure of the president. Bush appointed him. Obama kept him, and Fitzgerald says, he loves his job and would like to stay at it.

"I'm content. This is my home. I have no plans to leave I won't do it forever, but the time has not yet come," said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald arrived having prosecuted the World Trade Center bombers in the 90s and having led the effort that produced the indictment of Osama bin Laden long before that name was widely known.

Today, Fitzgerald keeps a copy of the bin Laden indictment in his office desk drawer. It does reveal what has been accomplished, but also reminds how dysfunctional our counter-terrorism efforts were a decade ago.

Fitzgerald, in his speech Monday, said law enforcement back then did its thing, and so did the intelligence gatherers, but they couldn't share anything with each other. It was like, he says, a football team that had two simultaneous defensive huddles. That is no longer the game plan.

"We now sit down on a very regular basis with the FBI and ask them everything they're doing as part of a task force with the local police with other folks," Fitzgerald said. "We're allowed to who's the threat out there. We're allowed to discuss what they're doling. There's very little we can't know."

That, said Fitzgerald, is a fundamental change that has helped keep us safe.

There is another fundamental change that arguably has been slow in coming. With one governor dispatched to prison and another about to be, there remains a sense that some level of political corruption is inevitable, and it's for law enforcement to fix.

"If I could have a dollar for everyone who's ever come up to me after we've convicted someone to say, 'Yes, we knew he or she was doing that all the time and we wondered when someone was going to do something about it.' And I bite my lip and want to smack them upside the head and say, 'Well, the person you wanted to do something about it was you.' "

And what of Rod Blagojevich, he is asked? What length of sentence do you request?

"The judge will find out what we recommend for sentencing when we send him something in writing, but not from the news clips of today. So I'm sorry," Fitzgerald said.

Blagojevich was scheduled to be sentenced October 6. It looks like that will be rescheduled, though the decision has not yet been made.

The City Club audience on Monday -- as usual -- included a healthy number of elected officials. The wonderfully irreverent host, professor Paul Green, asked the final question: "How many potential targets are in this room?" Laughter was followed by Green saying "You don't have to answer that."

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