By Lorraine Adams and Amy Goldstein
She was Monica S. Lewinsky, asking them to please just call her "Monica." They were the 23 grand jurors assembled by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, sounding more like mother hens than interrogators.
Their interchange is contained in documents released by the House Judiciary Committee this week that draw back the curtain on a part of the American judicial process ordinarily hidden from view. For the first time, the public could glimpse the personality, behavior and reaction of the grand jurors who spent eight months in a small, windowless room listening to the tale presented by prosecutors of President Clinton's relationship with the former White House intern.
From the pages of Lewinsky's testimony on those two August days, a picture emerges of a grand jury playing what would, in many criminal cases, be a highly unorthodox role. Time and again, jurors interrupted prosecutors' questioning to interject their own thoughts on matters remote from the law.
"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," a juror told Lewinsky at one point. "So to let you know from here, you have my forgiveness."
Such engagement, such sympathy with the witness who is, after all, the linchpin in Starr's case, appears to reflect two things: the composition of the mostly female grand jury and the extraordinary nature of the case, according to a variety of former prosecutors and other authorities on grand juries.
"It's more like 'Oprah' . . . than a grand jury," said criminal defense attorney Kenneth W. Robinson, a former prosecutor. Of the more than 350 grand jury transcripts he has seen, Robinson said, "there hasn't been a single one that has had the kind of chummy involvement that this one has."
That is not to say that grand juries never behave in the style that is evident in the transcripts of Lewinsky's testimony, legal experts said. The role of a grand jury is to evaluate evidence paraded by a prosecutor and decide whether there is "probable cause" to issue an indictment. In this instance, the jurors' mission is more nebulous; only Congress can decide whether a sitting president should be removed from office.
Often, jurors are the relatively silent, passive tools of prosecutors' wishes. "The old expression in the defense bar is, 'A grand jury will indict a ham sandwich.' . . . Typically grand jurors are not paying the kind of attention to the witness that oftentimes we want them to pay," said Laura Ariane Miller, a local defense lawyer.
The judicial system sets no limits on what these ordinary citizens may ask. "They routinely ask questions that just sometimes get to the personal side of whatever they're investigating . . . that, from the viewpoint of the prosecutor, have no relation to the matter that's under investigation," said attorney Steven Tabackman, who was a federal prosecutor for 10 years and an associate independent counsel on an earlier investigation regarding Clinton's passport records.
In general, "you're dealing [on Washington grand juries] with regular citizens -- moms and dads and bus drivers and government workers," Tabackman said.
On the Starr grand jury, all but five of its 23 members are women. Most are African American, and some are old enough to be grandmothers. Certainly, they doled out a large dose of maternal advice after Lewinsky volunteered, "I hate Linda Tripp," and began to cry.
"Even though right now you feel a lot of hate for Linda Tripp," a juror replied, referring to Lewinsky's friend-turned-betrayer who secretly tape-recorded their telephone chats, then handed the tapes to prosecutors. "But you need to move on and leave her where she is, because whatever goes around comes around."
"It comes around," a second juror chimed in.
"It does," a third echoed.
Miller said that such an exchange "almost seems it could be excerpted from 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,' " a best-selling book that described differences in how the sexes tend to communicate. "There's almost a sense of nurturing -- let me help you get through this, a little bit of giving a lesson."
Lewinsky herself was not subject to charges because she was testifying under a grant of immunity.
At one point, the jury seemed to have questions about how the independent counsel conducted its investigation. As one prosecutor began to move swiftly over the account of the sting last January, in which Starr's staff and the FBI detained Lewinsky at the Pentagon City shopping mall, jurors asked repeatedly to delve more deeply into the details. "We want to know about that day," one juror said.
In other moments, the jurors' responses appeared to have been shaped by what they heard over the months: a saga revolving around behavior that is deeply painful and personal. Even without the tinderbox of sex, legal experts said, a long-running case can produce a sense of intimacy with witnesses, particularly in the cloistered world of a grand jury room, where no judges or defense lawyers are present.
That intimacy was heightened because Lewinsky's account "was pretty intense stuff," said Sara Sun Beale, a Duke University law professor. "She wasn't in there reading from the Manhattan phone book. She was baring her soul, which evoked in some jurors a personal response."
Whatever their motivation, the jurors' sympathy toward her could prove of great value to Starr if he ultimately decides to try to indict Clinton once he leaves office. "It seems to me that Starr may be giving them free rein," Robinson said, "because he intends to try Clinton if he is not impeached, and he wants to be in these grand jurors' good graces."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company