Attorney General John Ashcroft removed himself Tuesday from the investigation into who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer, to syndicated columnist Robert Novak in July. Ashcroft stepped aside to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest after reviewing evidence recently developed in the inquiry.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in Chicago, a veteran of terrorism and political corruption cases, will take over as a special prosecutor. According to the Associated Press, Fitzgerald recently handled the corruption indictment of ex-Illinois Gov. George Ryan, and has been described as an "Eliot Ness with a Harvard law degree and a sense of humor."
A transcript of the news conference where Ashcroft's decision was announced is accessible here.
This development follows last week's Washington Post story that the investigation was progressing. The initial reaction to news of Ashcroft's recusal is positive. Democrats have demanded for months thatAshcroft step aside.
Presidential candidate, Senator Joseph Lieberman doesn’t think Ashcroft went far enough:
The public will not likely trust the results of an investigation headed by a political appointee, especially when the special counsel is constrained by Department of Justice regulations.Lieberman is right. Finding it prudent to recuse himself, Ashcroft should have named someone outside of his Department. The same “appearance of a conflict” will attach to someone who works for Ashcroft. Based on the information available to us, I did not think Ashcroft’s recusal was necessary, but having concluded that it was, Ashcroft should have named someone who is not employed by the Justice Department.
UPDATE: Vince, at articulate.babble refers us to John Marshall’s Talking Points Memo for background on Fitzgerald. Marshall concludes that Fitzgerald will conduct an independent investigation. Marshall posted this from a May 13th 2001 Associated Press report:
The son of Irish immigrants and a graduate of the Harvard Law School, Patrick Fitzgerald said he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.Darren Kaplan explains that Fitzgerald is a special prosecutor which is not the same thing as an independent prosecutor.
"I'm an independent," he told reporters.
Sen. Fitzgerald said a professional prosecutor with a streak of professional independence was just what he wanted.
The senator said that at the outset of his search he consulted outgoing FBI director Louis Freeh.
"I asked Mr. Freeh who in his opinion were the best prosecutors in the country and one of the first names he mentioned was Pat Fitzgerald," the senator said.
Patrick Fitzgerald graduated from Harvard's law school one year ahead of Sen. Fitzgerald's wife, Nina. But aides to the senator said the two apparently had never met while at Harvard.
In New York, Fitzgerald has the reputation of a tough, no-nonsense prosecutor who doesn't relish bantering with reporters. He is trusted by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and was by her side when law enforcement officials gathered the night in July 1996 when TWA Flight 800 burst into flames over Long Island and 230 aboard were killed.