Where Fitzgerald released only information that supported the charges in the indictment, Starr's voluminous account led to accusations that he had gratuitously invaded the private life of the president and the first family, and that he had veered far away from his original mandate. Starr said that the details were needed to establish that Clinton had lied under oath.
"Mr. Fitzgerald has proven that we are all better off without an independent counsel law," said Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer and Clinton advisor during the Lewinsky affair. "The contrasts between him and Ken Starr could not be more stark. We should not use the criminal justice system to make findings of fact that are not in a courtroom. That is why we have due process."
But others said that system could also deprive the public of crucial information, and that prosecutors could view their role too narrowly. Public officials should be held to a higher standard of conduct than ordinary citizens and should not complain when the public demands a full and open accounting of their actions, this thinking goes.
The GOP-controlled Congress has shown no interest in wanting to learn more about the Plame case, which has focused on Republicans in the White House. Fitzgerald himself has indicated he isn't interested in cooperating with a congressional probe, saying in a letter to House Democrats on Friday that he was barred from releasing information to them for oversight of the case because of rules governing the secrecy of grand jury testimony.
The indictment against Libby alleges that he talked to reporters about Plame and her CIA affiliation. Bush's critics have said that this was meant to undercut Plame's husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was gaining attention in mid-2003 for saying that the administration bolstered its case for invading Iraq by exaggerating Saddam Hussein's interest in acquiring nuclear materials.
But left unclear in the indictment, several people noted, is whether Libby talked to reporters on his own impetus, or whether he was responding to pressures from more senior officials. By releasing information only on the perjury, lying and obstruction charges he intends to take to trial, Fitzgerald left a key question unanswered, several people said.
"The question is, is this a White House that is creating an environment of vengeance and punishment against people who disagree with them, or is this just an example of one guy who went too far?" asked Kenneth Parsigian, a Boston lawyer who was an associate to Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh during the probe of the Iran-Contra affair. "Without a report, that may never be known."
It is a question that resonates with the Iran-Contra case, Parsigian said. President Reagan and other administration figures were pressed on what they knew about the arrangement that Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North had made to fund Nicaraguan rebels with proceeds from the sale of arms to Iran. The aid to the rebels came in direct violation of a congressional ban.
Walsh's 1993 report on the Iran-contra matter -- a 566-page volume, plus appendices -- found no credible evidence that Reagan had broken the law but concluded that he had "knowingly participated or at least acquiesced" in covering up the scandal. It also discussed the roles of numerous administration figures and outside persons who were never charged, and it included a compendious supplement in which they voiced their objections to the findings.
The possible involvement of Cheney or others in the White House in the leak case is just one of the mysteries remaining in the wake of the indictment of Libby.
Fitzgerald was appointed to find out who leaked Plame's name to the media, and whether laws were violated in the process. Her name first appeared in a July 14, 2003, article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
But the indictment does not fully reveal -- and Fitzgerald refuses to say -- who leaked the information to Novak. Novak wrote that two sources told him about Plame, but the Libby indictment only mentions one, who is identified only as "Official A." Sources familiar with the case have said that Official A is Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff to the president.
Fitzgerald also won't discuss the actions of Rove. One of Bush's closest advisors, Rove testified before the grand jury four times. Rove has said through his lawyer that he has been told by Fitzgerald that he could still be charged. But if he is not prosecuted, the story of his actions are likely to remain secret.
Fitzgerald acknowledged the frustration that some people feel in wanting to learn more about the actions of public officials. "I know that people want to know whatever it is that we know, and they're probably sitting at home with TVs thinking, 'I want to jump through the TV, grab him by his collar and tell him to tell us everything they've figured out over the last two years,' " the prosecutor said Friday.
"We just can't do that," he said, "not because we enjoy holding back information from you. That's the law."