While most who focus on the national aspects of Patrick Fitzgerald’c current role as an independent prosecutor, the primary problems Hastert has with Fitzgerald are local in origin.
Remember this fight is quite old and mixed in with funding for the Lincoln Library. Upon Bush’s election to the Presidency, by custom, the senior Senator of the President’s party gets to make the US Attorney selection. Hastert expected to be consulted on the decision and at one time appeared to be going around Peter to veto someone from outside Illinois. Peter refused to budge and got all three of his choices. Patrick Fitzgerald was a culture change from Scott Lasser who was a decent prosecutor, but not nearly as dogged in rooting out corruption.
What offended many was that Peter went outside of Illinois to find a tough prosecutor instead of hiring someone from Illinois. Peter knew exactly what he was doing though because he surmised that anyone with the political connections to be considered from Illinois would be compromised by those same connections. Either they wouldn’t pursue corruption very strongly, or they would pursue it unevenly against the other party. Peter went outside of Illinois to a prosecutor known for being tough with a record of terrorism and corruption investigations. Patrick Fitzgerald even claims that he never really had a partisan affiliation until his last few years in as a Prosecutor, and presumably he had to choose one because he wanted to advance to be a US Attorney.
Complicating the matter was that at the same time there was a high profile fight over funding for the Lincoln Library between Peter on one hand and Hastert and George Ryan on the other. Lynn Sweet describe it thusly on February 4, 2001
Fitzgerald first clashed with Hastert last fall over the Lincoln Library. He accused Hastert of blocking his attempt to attach federal procurement rules to legislation approving up to $ 50 million for the library. Fitzgerald feared loopholes in state bidding laws would let Ryan give contracts to his cronies. He inflamed Hastert when he said at the time that Hastert’s actions were “morally and ethically wrong.”
Hastert said, “I have no fight with Peter,” even though he challenged Fitzgerald’s integrity.
“We needed a senator in our Republican Party over there (in the Senate) to help us get things done. I would welcome that. I would hope we could work with him. My door is open. But I took with some umbrage when he tried to pull me into some kind of contrived plan on the problems in Illinois,” he said.
While the public fireworks were between Hastert and Fitzgerald, it’s important to note that Daley, despite his brother’s relationship as Gore campaign manager, had a good relationship with Bush and the clubbiness of both parties in Illinois meant that Daley could exert pressure over the hiring as well with Daley essentially being another supporter for Hastert’s case to Bush to force Peter to compromise. Neither party wanted a pesky prosecutor looking for corruption in both parties and were quite happy to have someone like Lasser who went after the small fish such as relatively low rung Alderman or blatant problems like Loren Maltese.
It’s that clubby relationship that John Kass calls the Combine in Illinois–a center party that isn’t based on ideology, but members of both parties that primarily work to further their own fortunes and careers. We’ve seen key elements of the Combine come down over the last few years.
George Ryan, the clubbiest of them all is under indictment, Lee Daniels is under investigation, Pate Philip might well be given his performance in one trial. Many people in the orbit of Daley have been caught up in investigations now leading up to his patronage chief Sorich. All of these people were safe under the unexciting and relatively non-aggressive Scott Lasser. Now, no one is safe and a lot of people would like to see that change.
Peter is paranoid to a degree, but not without reason. Most of the Combine was, in fact, out to drive him from office with the hope of getting someone who could play ball on pork and someone who would move towards another US Attorney.
In the mean time, however, Patrick Fitzgerald has become a folk hero to many activists on the left and right who have wanted to diminish the power of Combine forces that maintain the status quo. Especially amongst social conservatives who see the Combine figures as morally and legally bankrupt on many different levels, Patrick Fitzgerald is a hero. Amongst liberals, Fitzgerald is seen as the guy who took down GOP corruption and is at least checking the Combine elements of the Democrats. Supporters of Jesse Jackson Jr. see his investigations as the way to return a progressive African-American to the Mayor’s office. Firing him would have been very difficult given the grass roots outcry if Hastert had pulled it off.
Now, though, it’s simply impossible. The Washington Press is already angry about being lied to concerning the Rove scandal and not reappointing Fitzgerald would simply look like vindictiveness and woudl create a press outcry and even sympathy for the guy who jailed one of their own.
The irony is that Hastert might have had a shot at taking Patrick out before the Rove Scandal heated up. In a quiet move the administration could have asked Patrick to step down voluntarily and moved on to a new appointment controlled by Hastert that would have paralyzed the office for several months and then slowly the office would have become less aggressive on corruption cases. By being the guy at the center of the Rove scandal, Fitzgerald is almost certain to be reappointed now because the White House can’t send him a quiet request to step down and they certainly aren’t stupid enough to fire him.
The people who have the most to lose from the Rove scandal could yet by Illinois politicians not even involved in the issue, but those who are targets of investigations by Fitzgerald who now don’t have any hope he’ll be dismissed.
What does Patrick Fitzgerald think of all this? Probably not much. He’s kinda busy.