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Prosecutor granted broad powers in CIA leak case

WASHINGTON—Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald was given broad powers to act independently when he was named special counsel to investigate the leak of a CIA officer's identity.

A Dec. 30, 2003, Justice Department memo from Acting Attorney General James Comey granted Fitzgerald "all the authority of the Attorney General" in connection with the leak case. Fitzgerald has the power to act "independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the Department."

On Feb. 6, 2004, Comey, at Fitzgerald's request, wrote a second memo to clarify that Fitzgerald's authority extended not just to the leak itself but also to crimes committed in the course of his investigation such as obstruction of justice, perjury, destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses.

Comey was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department until he left in August. He became acting attorney general in the leak case after John Ashcroft recused himself in December 2003 because of ties to top Republican officials at the White House.

Fitzgerald's four-year term as U.S. attorney in Chicago expired in September, although there's been no move yet to replace him. His power as special counsel lasts until the investigation concludes, including any appeals arising from the case.

Despite his autonomy, Fitzgerald must still comply with the "rules, regulations, procedures, practices and policies of the Department of Justice," according to federal regulations.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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