Forewoman Would Have Voted to Indict Clinton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 1999; Page A1
The forewoman of the grand jury that investigated President Clinton's dealings with Monica S. Lewinsky said yesterday she would have voted to indict the president for perjury even though "I absolutely love him."
In doing so, Freda Alexander broke one of the last barriers of secrecy in perhaps the most disclosed investigation ever. Congress has released the report by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, thousands of pages of grand jury transcripts and even audiotapes of Lewinsky's telephone chats with Linda R. Tripp. But Alexander's decision to speak out yesterday pierced the silence of the grand jury room where the Lewinsky investigation's secrets first spilled out and, a week after the grand jury's term expired, provided a dramatic and unusual coda to its proceedings.
For 18 months, she was the anonymous leader of Grand Jury 97-2, known to reporters who watched her pass by as "the businesslady" for her crisp professional dress. Day after day, Alexander sat in the front of the closed grand jury room as Starr's prosecutors brought a parade of witnesses to testify about Clinton's affair with Lewinsky and their efforts to keep it hidden from lawyers for Paula Jones.
Alexander, a 46-year-old hotel sales representative, cried when Lewinsky cried. She watched helplessly when Lewinsky's mother broke down on the stand, unable even to talk. She cringed inside when presidential secretary Betty Currie reluctantly acknowledged that Clinton had been alone with the young former intern. And Alexander, who is African American, even reprimanded her favorite prosecutor, chiding him for the lack of women and minorities on Starr's legal team.
But it was the president's behavior, Alexander said, that was most painful for her, though the grand jury was never asked to confront the ultimate question of whether to indict him. "This hurt terribly," she said in an interview at her Southwest Washington apartment, a large-screen television set behind her flashing images of the president going to war with Serbia even as she talked. "I absolutely love Clinton."
Although she voted for the president, Alexander said, she was convinced he lied to the grand jury in his Aug. 17 appearance. "I took offense to it. I consider myself a normal human being and I think oral sex falls within the definition of sexual relations." Her fellow grand jurors were similarly angered, she said, as they watched Clinton's testimony through a remote hookup to the White House. "When he got to what the definition of 'is' is, everybody went. . . . 'No he didn't! We are not here for English class.' "
But Alexander, who has never met the president but still keeps the program from the 1997 Democratic National Committee gala she attended to honor him, also reflected the ambivalence many Americans felt about Clinton's behavior. "I believe he lied," she said. "But I also believe he had no other choice."
She was similarly charitable about two of the other most controversial figures in the investigation: Lewinsky and Starr himself.
"I feel badly for him," she said of the independent counsel, who appeared before the grand jury only three times throughout their months-long investigation and never questioned a witness. "He was given a job to perform."
As for the 25-year-old who confessed weepingly to the grand jury that she had still loved the president right up until his Aug. 17 testimony, Alexander expressed motherly affection toward her. Lewinsky's account of her ordeal when she was first confronted by prosecutors in the Pentagon City Ritz-Carlton brought Alexander to tears. "I was crying, many of the grand jurors were. Even the court reporter."
Alexander, who said she has a son the same age as Lewinsky, told the grand jurors when Lewinsky was outside composing herself that she wanted to "leave her with a little bit of encouragement."
And so, when Lewinsky returned, Alexander gave her a hug. "If anyone in the world needed a hug at that moment," the forewoman figured, "it was Monica."
Alexander, who was fired from her job at the Madison Hotel during her grand jury service and has filed a lawsuit claiming she was wrongfully dismissed as a result of her long tenure at the courthouse, said her lawyers had advised her she was free to talk about her "unique" experience.
Legal experts said the comments by Alexander were extraordinary and appeared to run directly counter to the strict rules governing grand jury secrecy. The rule broadly prohibits grand jurors from disclosing "matters occurring before the grand jury."
George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg said the fact that the grand jury materials had been splashed onto the Internet did not justify Alexander from breaking her vow of secrecy. "In one sense it's hard to fault her for talking about something that has been released to such an extraordinary and unprecedented extent," he said. "On the other hand, it is really a bad idea for grand jurors to talk about would haves, should haves, could haves."
A spokeswoman for Starr's office, Elizabeth Ray, said there would be no comment on Alexander's decision to talk.
In between fielding telephone calls from television network producers soliciting her for this morning's shows, Alexander freely discussed her impressions of grand jury witnesses and said she is considering suggestions that she write a book.
Her name first surfaced this week when a hospitality trade publication, USAE News, revealed her lawsuit against the Madison. The Associated Press found the article on the Internet and soon called for an interview. Alexander obliged.
She seemed eager to relive the months of service. Ironically, she recalled, the very first day of testimony in the Lewinsky matter turned out to be "the worst." That was when Currie first testified, and to the grand jury it was a hint of the personal toll that the controversy would come to exact. "Her body literally caved in on itself," Alexander recalled, "when the question was asked, 'Was the president ever alone with Monica?' She said in a whisper: 'Yes.' "
By the time Tripp appeared before the grand jury many months later, Alexander said, they were quite suspicious of the woman who had triggered the investigation. "Linda Tripp came in with her self-righteousness. That kind of put people off a little bit," she said.
Other witnesses made a better impression. Walter Kaye, the New
York businessman who helped Lewinsky secure her White House internship, was a particular favorite: "He kept kissing my hand," Alexander said. Marsha Scott, the White House deputy personnel director who refused to help Lewinsky return to work there, struck Alexander as a model of politeness -- "she was the epitome of a southern belle."
And, as a parent, Alexander said she felt terrible watching Lewinsky's mother, Marcia Lewis, collapse during questioning: "She couldn't talk. She didn't want anyone to touch her."
To Alexander, the 23-member grand jury performed its job well. While deferential to Starr, she also wants it known that this was a group prepared to ask exculpatory questions, too. Referring to the adage that some grand juries will indict a ham sandwich if that's what a prosecutor asked, she said, "We took it upon ourselves not to be the ham sandwich kind of jury."
It was a job she took seriously. When Congress released the five thick volumes of material referred by Starr, Alexander trooped down to the Government Printing Office to buy her own set. She dutifully tuned in to the House impeachment deliberations and the Senate trial. Now, having turned into the public face of the once secret grand jury, she is outwardly composed. But, she said as she contemplated the barrage of calls from journalists, "Inside, I'm shaking."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company