Memo to Eastern pundits: It's Illinois' and Chicago's stinking mess; stay out of it

From the Eastern heights come directives to go easy on Illinois corruption.

The Washington Post decreed that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald should silence his "moral thunder" and not retryRod Blagojevich on serious corruption charges.

Post editorial writers echoed Blagojevich's silly assertion that Fitzgerald was close to stepping across the fine line that "separates prosecution from persecution." Further prosecution isn't merited, they intoned, because Fitzgerald failed to convince a jury that Blagojevich had "crossed the fuzzy line between sleazy politics and outright corruption."

At the Boston Herald, Dan Thomasson, wrote about "The Political Wreck of Patrick Fitzgerald." Thomasson asserted that retrying the case isn't worth the time and money needed to "send the hair advantaged" former governor to the "slammer." Maybe, Thomasson suggested, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder should urge his prosecutors "to take the one charge [lying to the feds] they could get and let the rest go."

patfitz.jpg

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announces charges against Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris at a Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago. Fitzgerald said that federal authorities arrested Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich because the governor went on "a political corruption crime spree" that needed to be stopped. Don't stop now, Pat. (Tribune photo by Chuck Berman / December 9, 2008)

Talk show jabberers, usually dominated by East Coast types, offered similar advice, but they all were topped by the Wall Street Journal. Resign or be fired, the New York publication thundered. The paper said Blago may or may not have been guilty but then ironically said Fitzgerald should go because of his incompetence -- apparently demonstrated by his failure to convict Blagojevich on more counts.

Fitzgerald, the Journal said, also violated prosecutorial ethics by throwing "an exaggerated book at unpopular defendants and hopes at least one of the charges will stick, even as he flouts due process and the presumption innocence when the political winds are high." They cited Fitzgerald's "railroading" of former Sun-Times owner Conrad Black and, as special prosecutor, his "pursuit" of Scooter LibbyDick Cheney's chief of staff, in the Valerie Plame affair.

Lord Black of Crossharbour, Chicago's media has-been, a victim?

For some conservatives it's political. They've hated special prosecutors and independent counsels going back to the nailing of Richard Nixon and the investigation of the Iran-contra affair in George H.W. Bush's Ronald Reagan's administration. More reasonably, they argue that empowering prosecutors who are accountable to no one is an invitation to abuse. At least they've been consistent.

As for the rest of Fitzgerald's critics, stay away from our stinking mess.

Fitzgerald is not just the most effective tool against corruption Illinois has had in memory. Basically, he's about the only one. The sages out East might regard Fitzgerald as hyper-aggressive, but it's funny that we didn't hear those complaints when he convicted Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman for the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. Or when he indicted Osama bin Laden years before 9/11.

Super aggressive is the only formula that works against the bi-partisan corruption feeding off Chicago and Illinois citizens and taxpayers. Are we supposed to count on local insiders to put away our dirt bags? How many politicians and "civil servants" would still be at large if it weren't for Fitzgerald? How much deeper would be the cesspool of corruption, racketeering, fraud, extortion and kickbacks in which this town is swimming if it weren't for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois? (East Coast mavens, note the emphasis.)

Dwell on this: If Fitzgerald resigns or is fired, look at who would name his replacement: President Barack Obama. That would be the same Obama whose pal, Tony Rezko was a major player in the Blagojevich saga. And who was convicted of using political connections to demand kickbacks from businesses that wanted to do business with the state. The same Obama that Blago's lawyers once threatened to call as a witness in support of Blago. Don't the sages out East recognize a slight conflict of interest in Obama calling off the hound that is sniffing out corruption in the president's hometown?

Flatlanders aren't so dense that they can't detect the condescension: The case is too complicated for Chicago juries to understand, so best to abandon the prosecution. Or that the line between corruption and Illinois' way of doing politics is so fuzzy as not to be discernable. Or that few here care about integrity and good government.

But here's something that those few who do care know: If Blagojevich is not retried and if Fitzgerald leaves town under a cloud, every schemer, goniff and conniver will take it as a victory. Open the floodgates.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune

Comments

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  • This seems to prove that no editorial board has any authority behind what it says. I really don't understand why newspapers still have editorials, since they don't speak for the publisher.

    If fuzzy thinking is a virtue, at least there is the blogosphere.

  • I agree with the Post, let it go and save IL taxpayers millions. I admire Pat Fitzgerald with much of the corruption he has uncovered over the years in Chicago, however he has to know when to move on and dig up the neverending filth going on every day in Chicago.

  • Exactly right.

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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