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Special Reports Last Updated: Apr 23rd, 2009 - 01:15:46

Fitzgerald tried to get Obama, came up with �Zilch,� says former Chicago Tribune editor
By Margie Burns
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 23, 2009, 00:18

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U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald interrogated convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko and others intensively about then-senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, a former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune said on television last week.

Jim Warren, now a political commentator for MSNBC, told Hardball host Chris Matthews that Fitzgerald questioned Rezko �very aggressively� about possible involvement of Obama in alleged political scandals in Chicago, and came away �with nothing.�

Warren said, �They have come away with zilch.�

This item, lost amid furor over newly released Justice Department torture memos last week, came out April 14. Warren was at the Tribune from 1984 until August 2008, according to the newspaper, going to the Tribune from the rival Chicago Sun-Times where he began in 1977. Warren was Washington Bureau Chief for the Tribune for eight years beginning in 1993.

Warren emphasized that his own viewpoint on whether Fitzgerald�s investigations included Obama has changed. From the MSNBC transcript:

WARREN: . . . And, if I can also just add something, in talking to a couple of lawyers close to the case, which is something, Chris and Lynn, that has totally undermined my prevailing assumption that Patrick Fitzgerald took it easy on then candidate Obama, then President-elect Obama, now President Obama, in fact, now I can only attribute this to sources very close to the case.

It turns out that Patrick Fitzgerald and his guys were very aggressively questioning a host of witness, including the notorious developer, now convicted, Tony Rezko, even when he was in solitary confinement a few blocks from here, aggressively questioning him about the involvement of Barack Obama in any of this, and came away, apparently . . .

MATTHEWS: So . . .

WARREN: . . . with nothing.

So, my notion that they took a passive attack toward Obama for a variety of reasons, I now have to admit, according to my sources, is simply wrong.

Rezko, convicted after a highly publicized trial during the 2008 primary election, reportedly said in 2008 that he was under intense pressure to give prosecutors damaging information on Obama or on then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Rezko said at the time that he did not have information about Obama. The remarks were not publicly followed up, presumably out of concern by Rezko�s defense attorneys that reports might harm their client.

Rezko remains in solitary confinement, where he has been since mid-2008. NDIL spokesman Randall Samborn, questioned earlier about Rezko�s confinement, said that a status hearing was scheduled for early February.

The Northern District of Illinois (NDIL) office has declined to comment on the MSNBC discussion.

Warren reiterated his statement several times:

MATTHEWS: Well, let me rephrase that for you.

LYNN SWEET: But one of the . . .

MATTHEWS: Well, let me rephrase that for you, let you -- did they try to nail the president-elect?

SWEET: No, no, no. I think they had to follow the string. They . . .

WARREN: They aggressively -- they . . .


SWEET: Jim . . .


WARREN: They aggressively questioned a host of folks, including Tony Rezko.


WARREN: And the fact that you see virtually nothing about Obama, even indirectly, smelly, either in the criminal information revealed on December 9 . . .

SWEET: Right.


WARREN: . . . of last year or recently in an indictment, is not apparently because they took a pass because they were spineless or cutting him some slack.

SWEET: Right.

WARREN: It was because, to this point . . .

SWEET: Well, I don�t -- I don�t know necessarily . . .

WARREN: . . . they have come away with zilch.�

NDIL investigations since Fitzgerald became U.S. attorney in 2001 have generally bypassed large donors, with a few exceptions such as Rezko, to focus on public officials. The office has not extensively targeted corporate fraud. Recently the Tribune reported that two donors in Chicago�s Indian-American community approached politicians with an offer of up to $5 million in contributions. The eventual fundraiser, in December 2008, raised about $20,000. Widespread reports have involved the name of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., in connection with the two Indian businessmen, who are not under indictment and are reportedly talking with federal investigators.

Conservative spokespersons and media outlets often speculated during the presidential primaries that the Rezko trial would implicate then-candidate Obama. The public speculation, largely partisan, subsided toward the end of the trial when prosecutors alleged that persons under investigation had tried to get Patrick Fitzgerald removed from office, naming former Bush White House advisor Karl Rove.

Rove was questioned by Fitzgerald extensively in the CIA leak investigation that indicted I. Lewis �Scooter� Libby, and he appeared five times before the grand jury. Fitzgerald publicly cleared Rove in June 2005. Before the Rezko trial, Fitzgerald and Rove did not comment publicly on whether they had discussed Chicago political matters.

The allegation that persons of interest tried to get Fitzgerald removed has surfaced again in the indictment of Rod Blagojevich.

Margie Burns, a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area, can be reached at

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