Conspiracies and a corruption probe


U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is known for his tenacity, his willingness to keep digging and probing long after he has solved the case, looking for further charges against those who refuse to cooperate.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent nearly three months in jail because she would not reveal her sources to Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame leak case, even though the prosecutor had long known that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the leaker and had decided not to prosecute him. Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to investigators.

So why did this bulldog of a prosecutor halt his investigation of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich before he could carry out his plot to accept a bribe in exchange for appointing someone to fill Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat? Wouldn't it have been better to charge the briber and the bribee? Might the probe have nabbed some prominent names? Jesse Jackson Jr. has denied any involvement in the recorded talks about giving him the appointment in exchange for $1 million-plus. But the probe was stopped before the plot could hatch.

Why was Blagojevich not allowed to continue his attempt to dole out state tax breaks to the owners of the Chicago Cubs in exchange for firing certain editorial page editors at the Chicago Tribune, which is owned by the same company that owns the Cubs? Wouldn't taking down someone at the newspaper company have added a feather to Fitzgerald's well-plumed fedora?

I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but there was a certain tension between the role of the press and that of the prosecutor. The Tribune has, since Blagojevich's arrest, reported that it held off on reporting about the investigation for eight weeks at the request of the government.

This past week in a press conference, Fitzgerald said reporters from the Tribune called his office for a comment on a story they were about to publish about his probe.

"We thought we'd never have the opportunity to install the bug or place the telephone tap and we made an urgent request for the Tribune not to publish that story," Fitzgerald said. "That is a very rare thing for us to do and it's an even rarer thing for a newspaper to grant.

"I have to take my hat off that the Tribune withheld that story for a substantial period of time, which otherwise might have compromised the investigation from ever happening."

On Dec. 4, according to the criminal complaint filed against Blagojevich, the governor was overheard talking about layoffs taking place at the Tribune and whether a certain editorial page writer was among them. He wasn't.

That same day he was overheard saying he was "elevating" Senate candidate No. 5, now known to be Jesse Jackson Jr., on his list for the Senate appointment if No. 5 could provide something "tangible up front."

On Dec. 5 the Chicago Tribune published a front page story saying Blagojevich was being wiretapped and later that day Blagojevich was recorded when he told the fundraiser who had talked to him about Jackson Jr. to "undo your (name of a person redacted) thing." He was also overheard talking about moving money from a campaign fund to prepay a defense attorney before the feds could freeze the account.

That essentially is where the probe ended.

Fitzgerald has not complained about the Tribune halting his probe before it could snag other fish. I wonder why?

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Speaking of conspiracies ... a week ago the putative editor of the Las Vegas Sun Brian Greenspun upbraided the Review-Journal for daring to commit journalism and lectured us on how we should not tell our readers about how tax money is being spent at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority during these tough times when the city needs all the tourists it can muster. The headline read: "This is a time for propping up, not for tearing down."

Further down in the column he chided this newspaper for daring to raise questions about a public agency making contributions to the Denver-based National Jewish Medical and Research Center.

An alert reporter has since pointed out an article in the Denver Business Journal from two years ago detailing that the Greenspun family had pledged $1 million to the National Jewish hospital. With Greenspun it depends on whose ox is being gored.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes on the role of the press. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com. His blog can be found at lvrj.com/blogs/mitchell.

 

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