Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Patrick Fitzgerald's Problem

He is right out of a Frank Capra movie--a clean-cut crime fighter who lives to bring down the bad guys--but in the current Illinois Senate seat mess, Patrick Fitzgerald had to make a hard choice that could eventually let Rod Blagojevich off the hook: Should he try to stop the crime before it happens or nail the wrongdoer but only after the damage has been done?

The results of his decision to go public prematurely can be seen in a New York Times analysis under the headline, "In Blagojevich Case, Is it a Crime, or Just Talk?" that explores the fine line between political wheeling-dealing and a prosecutable crime:

"Mr. Fitzgerald’s decision to bypass a grand jury initially could signal a belief on his part that he did not yet have a fully prosecutable case on his hand, though it appears to have been prompted at least in part by the publication...of an article that tipped off Mr. Blagojevich that investigators were listening in on his conversations.

"Mr. Fitzgerald has also said he had been worried that if he did not intervene, Mr. Blagojevich might go ahead with some of his schemes, including appointing a successor to Mr. Obama."

Just so. If Fitzgerald had waited to catch Blagojevich with a smoking gun, he would have had an airtight case, but the US Senate would have had a replacement for Obama who, directly or indirectly, had bribed his or her way there.

The US Attorney's decision to prevent the crime has been drawing the fire of prosecutorial purists such as Victoria Toensing complaining in the Wall Street Journal that "he is not permitted to make the kind of inflammatory statements Mr. Fitzgerald made during his media appearance."

In an ideal world, she is right but the bottom line is that, in 21st century real life rather than a Frank Capra movie, most onlookers may readily forgive Patrick Fitzgerald for not playing a Boy Scout in the Blagojevich bad movie.

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