As Fitzgerald's inquiry was heating up into who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to reporters, Fleischer stepped forward with an offer: Give me immunity from prosecution and I'll give you information that might help your case.
What prosecutors didn't know was that Fleischer was one of the leakers. And without immunity, he refused to talk. Not even a hint.
Prosecutors normally insist on an informal account of what a witness will say before agreeing to immunity. It's known in legal circles as a proffer, and Fitzgerald said Thursday that he never got one from Fleischer, who was chief White House spokesman for the first 2 1/2 years of President Bush's first term.
"I didn't want to give him immunity. I did so reluctantly," Fitzgerald said in court. "I was buying a pig in a poke."
Once the deal was struck in February 2004, Fleischer revealed that he had discussed Plame with reporters in July 2003, days before leaving his job at the White House.
Fleischer, who made a brief appearance at the courthouse on Thursday, is expected to testify early next week that he learned that the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson worked for the CIA from I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Libby is being tried in U.S. District Court on charges of lying and obstructing Fitzgerald's investigation into who outed the CIA operative.
The Fleischer gamble is the second arrangement prosecutors are known to have made with leakers in the leak investigation.
At the onset of the case, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said he told authorities that he was the source behind columnist Robert Novak's story that revealed Plame's identity and triggered the investigation.
Fitzgerald has not discussed the arrangement with Armitage but said Thursday that he granted immunity to Fleischer believing only that he had "relevant information."
The deal Fitzgerald made was unusual enough that Libby's defense lawyers questioned whether it could be true. They suggested that Fitzgerald got a secret summary of Fleischer's testimony — a deal they want to discuss with jurors when Fleischer takes the stand against Libby on Monday.
Defense attorneys said they will ask U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton to force Fitzgerald to reveal what Fleischer promised him. Fitzgerald told Walton that no promises were made.
"We got no specifics," he said.