Grand jurors on the front line of Clinton saga

August 16, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- They read. They doodled. They dozed.

There were times when the 23 grand jurors hearing the Monica Lewinsky case seemed as bored as could be with the testimony unfolding before them. They moved about the courtroom, consumed snack food and generally allowed aides to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to handle the interrogation -- at least according to some of the 70-odd witnesses who have come to testify during the past six months.

But do not underestimate this group of everyday residents of the District of Columbia -- plucked at random from the city's voting rolls to participate in presidential history.

Tomorrow -- after hearing from scores and scores of witnesses over six long months -- grand jurors No. 1 through 23 will find themselves on the front lines of the inquiry as they watch, albeit on closed-circuit television, President Clinton's testimony.

Although Congress will ultimately weigh the evidence, for now the grand jury is trying to determine whether Clinton lied about a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and obstructed justice in seeking to keep the alleged relationship secret.

Grand jurors operate behind a court-imposed veil of secrecy that keeps their identities hidden and their courtroom closed.

The jurors convene several times a week in a windowless room on the third floor of the E. Barrett Prettyman District Courthouse, which is now a full-blown tourist attraction.

When they take the assignment, which is pitched to them as a weighty civic sacrifice, grand jurors raise their right hand and swear to button their lips. Unlike jurors in ordinary criminal cases, grand jurors in most cases can continue to read the paper, watch the news and live without the burdens of sequestration.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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