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Goodbye To Grand Jury Secrecy?

Secrecy in the grand jury is so sacred, reports CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg, that prosecutors never disclosed testimony about disgraced former President Nixon, thug-dictator Manuel Noriega, or Mafia kingpin John Gotti.

No such luck for Bill Clinton -- one of the few people in America whose grand jury testimony can be made public.

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"Grand jury materials have been presumed to be secret, and I think what we are seeing here is the system is being turned on its head," says former federal prosecutor John Fleder.

Because grand juries often hear baseless charges, Rule 6/E of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure says prosecutors "shall not disclose" what they are told.

However, during Watergate Prosecutor Leon Jaworski convinced Judge John Sirica in a legal precedent to let grand jury information on Nixon go to House impeachment investigators.

But the actual grand jury testimony remained secret.

Later, new laws created the Independent Counsel, with orders to tell Congress about any evidence of impeachable offenses.

Kenneth Starr received court approval to give the House anything he wanted, and he did it secretly -- two weeks before the President even testified.

Mr. Clinton could have gone to court to fight public release. But, by then he was too weak politically to appear to be stonewalling.

"I think what may well be going on right now is that the politics of this situation has taken over the legalisms," says Fleder.

Once the House got Starr's truckloads of evidence -- including the Clinton videotape - it could do what it wished. Legal rules like 6-E don't apply to Congress.

Legal scholars say the release of the tape may have long-range negative effects on law enforcement. As one put it, "the next time a prosecutor tells a mob informant his grand jury testimony will be in the strictest secrecy, he'll say, 'Yeah? Look what happened to Clinton.'"

Reported by Eric Engberg
©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved

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