Lending an Ear to Lewinsky

By Dettmer, Jamie | Insight on the News, October 19, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Lending an Ear to Lewinsky

Dettmer, Jamie, Insight on the News

Members of the most talked-about grand jury in history got an earful from Monica Lewinsky, but the transcript suggests they listened with sympathy -- and offered advice.

At times they sounded like a Greek chorus chanting homespun advice. "You need to move on and leave her where she is because whatever goes around comes around," one grand juror urged Monica Lewinsky when the president's onetime lover blurted out that she hated Linda Tripp, the woman who once was her friend. "It comes around," another juror echoed. "It does" a third concluded. "And she is definitely going to have to give an account for what she did" the first juror piped up again.

In examining the 3,200 pages of Monicagate evidence released by Congress, the relationship that developed between Lewinsky and the 23 jurors who are serving on Independent Counsel Ken Starr's Washington-based grand jury ranks among the most intriguing to plot and-- toward the end of Lewinsky's testimony -- the most moving to observe.

Grand juries -- a crucial component of American jurisprudence -- are steeped in secrecy. Jurors are prohibited by law from divulging any details about the cases brought before them. They are banned from disclosing evidence or commenting about what is said behind closed doors. The Starr evidence referred to Congress and passed on to the public lifts the veil a little, providing Americans with a unique peep at the workings of a grand jury, albeit one charged with a case of tremendous historic importance.

The picture that emerged is reassuring, a portrait of alert panelists taking their task with high seriousness but still able to display flashes of humor and sensitivity -- at times even wisdom. Clearly protective of the mixed-up kid Lewinsky, they were ready to impart advice to her, console her, sympathize with and occasionally chastise her for having an affair with a married man. "There's some that are going to say that they don't forgive you, but he whose sin -- you know -- that's how I feel about that" said one juror, sounding like Forrest Gump. "So to let you know from here, you have my forgiveness."

Lewinsky is solicitous of them when she is speaking and vice-versa. During her testimony on Aug. 6 about how White House aides were anxious about her being left alone with the president, a juror coughed. "Do you want some water?" Lewinsky asked, before turning her attention back to prosecutors. Later, when Lewinsky muttered that her cup of water was leaking, a juror piped up, "Do we have another cup up there?"

Media commentators have mocked the interaction between Lewinsky and the jurors -- all but five of whom are women and characterized the panel as being more like something from an Oprah Winfrey show than a grand jury. But former U.S. attorney Joe Di Genova says that it is not unusual for a grand jury to display kindness or protectiveness toward a witness, especially one about whom they have heard for months. Di Genova claims mat me Starr grand jury picked up on Lewinsky's vulnerability and responded. "With Monica Lewinsky they saw a woman who was taken advantage of and they dealt with her as a victim rather than as a perpetrator" he says, adding that other grand juries, particularly long-running ones, would have behaved similarly.

A source familiar with the Starr grand jury and who has wide experience with Washington grand juries generally, concurs. He says the Starr grand jury is not unique. "Most of the 23 jurors are ordinary working people. There are a couple of lawyers on the panel and one or two other professionals, but the rest of them are plain Janes and Joes. They're a good cross-section. The forewoman is bright and effective. The rest of them are not dense by any stretch and they tend to be thorough." He says the informality with this grand jury-- the jurors refer to prosecutors by their first name -also is not rare. They have been working together now for months -- a situation that brings people together and in which the barriers drop.

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