By Michael Grunwald and Bill Miller
But yesterday will be remembered as the day Monica S. Lewinsky finally spoke. She spoke for more than six hours in the privacy of the grand jury room. She also spoke a bit before sending her white handbag through the courthouse X-ray machine: "Can I put a phone in here? Is that okay?" Otherwise, there was no way to hear Lewinsky speak yesterday, no way to watch her utter the words that may determine the future of the Clinton presidency.
That didn't seem to matter to a media horde not seen outside a court since the O.J. Simpson trials: two dozen satellite trucks; news crews from Japan, France, Russia, Colombia and Sweden; cameras lined up like artillery at every entrance. At the west door -- not far from a statue of Chief Justice John Marshall -- a security sign seemed to say it all:
"Area Is Under 24 Hour Video Surveillance."
The courthouse plaza now known as Monica Beach was a kaleidoscope of multicolored lawn chairs, sunhatted tourists and twittering cell phones with a CNN cameraman above it all in a cherry-picker. For most of the day, it was strangely quiet, except for the wild stampedes that greeted Lewinsky's 8:25 a.m. arrival and 5:15 p.m. departure.
"I like public spectacles," said Maria Rodi, 20, a summer intern at the Environmental Protection Agency who stopped by the courthouse to stare. "You gotta have some excitement."
The doors of the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse were thrown open at 7 a.m., and reporters immediately began streaming through the marble hallways. The courthouse has been a backdrop for historic moments before, from the Watergate cases to the Iran-contra affair to the drug trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, but longtime court employees said they had never seen a media rampage like this. With one possible exception: Hillary Rodham Clinton's one-day appearance before the Whitewater grand jury in January 1996. Eons ago, in scandal time.
At least once -- when she left her Watergate apartment building, and she could choose among 17 different exits -- Lewinsky managed to elude the media's Monica watch. But cameras covered every door at the courthouse, and around 8:15 a.m., walkie-talkies began to crackle: Monica is on the move.
"Let's all try to work together," one camerawoman said. "We don't want to step on each other's shots. Everyone nodded in agreement.
In the front of the courthouse, Phyllis Hancock, a housewife from Bowling Green, Ky., who looked eerily like Lucianne Goldberg, the New York book agent some think of as the mastermind of the whole scandal, held a placard declaring: "Monica Tells Truth Slick Willie 'Must.' "
She explained that she and her son George visited the White House on Tuesday and decided to take Wednesday morning to show their disdain for its occupant.
Around 8:25 a.m., the horde turned on the Hancocks as quickly as it had embraced them as a shout went out to "Get down," because Lewinsky's Land Cruiser -- driven by Billy Martin, her mother's lawyer -- approached the driveway at the northeast corner of the courthouse, the cameramen quickly forgot their resolution to be polite, throwing elbows like power forwards as they jammed their lenses against the sport-utility vehicle's blacked-out windows.
The car pulled up to the east door of the courthouse, and Lewinsky stepped out, wearing a long-sleeved navy blue suit, white blouse, white stockings, white shoes and a string of pearls, providing the networks with the few seconds of footage they would play all day long.
She paused for a hug and a pat on the back from attorney Sydney Hoffman, her closest friend in her legal entourage. She was then joined by her media adviser and five more lawyers (her family did not accompany her to court) and they walked one by one through the door to a metal detector, where dozens of reporters were waiting for a glimpse of the star witness.
But three federal marshals quickly ushered Lewinsky onto a private elevator usually reserved for judges, and she was out of sight before anyone could shout a question. In the 28 weeks that this grand jury has been hearing testimony, no other witness has been allowed to ride that elevator, not Vernon E. Jordan Jr., not Linda R. Tripp, and not the parade of Secret Service officers and other White House personnel who have been called by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
Then it was time to wait to the end of the afternoon, when the crowd began building again.
Employees from the Department of Labor gathered on the roof next door to watch. A representative of a group calling itself BASIC (Battling Against Sin in Corporate Society) began making announcements through a megaphone, informing the crowd that there were 166 reporters there to cover the president's sex life. "Are there any other important issues in America?" the speaker demanded. "Are there?"
Suddenly, no one was listening. There were signs of activity. Purposeful walking. Police clearing spectators off sidewalks. The Land Cruiser, pulling up to the east door, idling.
Then she stepped into the sun. She did not say a word. She climbed into the car. And she was gone.
Staff writer Caroline Daniel and researchers Nathan Abse and Ben White contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company