An Emmy Award-winning journalist whose recent book sharply criticized U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and other officials as being negligent for failing to stop a key al-Qaeda figure during their tenure directing the FBI's elite bin Laden squad, filed a complaint with the Justice Department's ethics watchdog requesting an investigation into Fitzgerald for allegedly using government resources to try and kill the publication of the book.
Peter Lance, a former investigative correspondent for ABC News, sent a letter last week to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) calling for a wide-ranging probe of Fitzgerald as a result of his "20 month campaign...to kill the hardcover and paperback editions of my Harper Collins investigative book Triple Cross." [Full disclosure: I provided Lance with a quote endorsing his book that appears on the cover of Triple Cross].
Lance's book was published in hardcover in September 2006. Months
later, Fitzgerald, who rebuffed Lance's repeated requests for an
interview prior to the publication of Triple Cross, sent a letter to Harper Collins alleging the book defamed and libeled him (and others) and demanded the publisher stop distribution of Triple Cross and cancel any future printings and issue a public statement refuting the allegations made in the book about Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald also demanded "copies of all manuscript drafts and any correspondence between author and publisher regarding the fact-checking process for the book."
Harper and Lance spent nearly a year and tens of thousands of dollars vetting the book internally and through an outside attorney. Other than some minor sentence structure changes the paperback version of Triple Cross-released last week-does not read differently than the hardcover version in its criticism of Fitzgerald.
Lance's request for an ethics investigation into Fitzgerald centers on the fact that the federal prosecutor, who said he was acting as a private citizen in demanding the book be pulled from shelves, sent a 16-page letter dated Nov. 16, 2007 was sent from the office of the "U.S. Attorney Chicago" at 6:02 p.m.
It's unknown whether Fitzgerald, who rose to national prominence during his stint as special counsel investigating the role Bush administration officials played in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and his dogged pursuit of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and publishing magnate Conrad Black, used his staff to conduct research and draft the lengthy letters he sent to Harper Collins.
But that's what Lance wants the DOJ's ethics watchdog to find out.
Lance believes the letter Fitzgerald sent from the office of the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois was "a clear attempt to intimidate me and chill my publisher."
Lance has asked OPR to find out whether Fitzgerald, "apart from his use of the [fax machine from his U.S. Attorneys office]...devote any other Department of Justice Resources in furtherance of his campaign to kill the book.
Additionally, Lance said OPR should determine how much time Fitzgerald spent on "attempting to chill me and my publisher" and whether it had any impact on "his duty to protect the citizens of the Northern District of Illinois."
"Perhaps most important," Lance's June 13 letter to Mary Patrice Brown, Acting Counsel of OPR, "did Mr. Fitzgerald use the privileges and powers of his office to intimidate a publishing company and a reporter who were acting in the best traditions of investigative journalism?"
"In effect, did he abuse his authority by bringing the weight of his reputation as a 'relentless' prosecutor to bear in attempting to crush a book he found critical" of his work as a federal prosecutor in New York.
"I ask that [OPR] to determine whether...Fitzgerald crossed the line from public official charged with protecting the Constitution to thin-skinned prosecutor who used the authority of his office to undermine it," Lance's complaint says.
A Justice Department spokesman said the agency was unfamiliar with Lance's letter and declined to comment. Fitzgerald did respond to several requests for comment.
But a week before the paperback edition of Triple Cross was due to be released, Fitzgerald told the Associated Press that the book "lied about the facts and alleged that I deliberately misled the courts and the public in ways that in part caused the deaths in the 1998 [U.S. Embassy in Kenya] bombing attacks and in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."