At least twice each week, a group of men and women, some carrying knitting or newspapers, file past U.S. marshals into a windowless courtroom to hear testimony the rest of America can only guess at.
What did Monica Lewinsky really say? Did President Clinton's secretary back up his story? What did the Secret Service officers see?
The grand jury knows.
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Under U.S. law, grand jurors have independence and broad powers. Prosecutors can't indict someone on federal felony charges unless a grand jury majority votes to do so. But in reality they seldom go against the wishes of the prosecutors who steer the proceedings.
"You almost start to feel like a part of their team," said Karen A. Gray-Burriss, who served as a grand juror in Washington hearing unrelated cases last year. "The defense doesn't get to show you anything."
While the normal job for grand juries is to vote on indictments, the panel hearing the Lewinsky case may not get that opportunity. Their investigation is expected to end with prosecutors writing a report for Congress that could become the basis of impeachment proceedings.
The grand jurors' names are kept secret, but a few things can be observed about them: About half are black women. There are several white women, too, and only a few men. The jurors appear middle-aged or older. They presumably mirror the city's heavily Democratic population.
They are summoned from among the District of Columbia's registered voters, licensed drivers and holders of non-driver identification cards.
Some probably work for the city or federal government, both of which guarantee jurors full pay for missed work. Many private employers pay, too. The court gives jurors $40 per day.
Unlike trial juries, grand jurors can watch TV news and read articles about their cases. But they are forbidden from telling what goes on inside the grand jury room, even decades later.
For almost a year, these grand jurors have met two or three days each week. They began last September with testimony in Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's Whitewater inquiry.
In January, the focus abruptly shifted to the president and Lewinsky.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Clinton lied in a sworn deposition for the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit when he denied a sexua affair with Lewinsky. They also want to know whether he tried to influence others' testimony.
On Thursday, the jury heard testimony from several Secret Service officers who help protect the president.
Jurors asked their own questions the day Lewinsky appeared before them. They asked so many questions of Linda Tripp, the former friend who surreptitiously taped Lewinsky's conversations, that her testimony ran for eight days.
Witnesses called into the drab, unadorned jury room have come away with starkly differing impressions of the grand jurors' diligence.
Some Secret Service officers noticed that the jurors referred to their notes and posed pointed queries, said their lawyer, Michael Leibig. "They knew what they were doing," he said.
But another witness, speaking on condition that he not be named, said that during his morning appearance jurors ate muffins and bagels, poured coffee and turned around in their seats to chat with those behind them. Some witnesses have been kept waiting because fewer than the 16 jurors needed to hear testimony showed up.
Another witness, a Clinton ally, saw two jurors knitting and a third working a crossword puzzle. But they were courteous. Some nodded or smiled in greeting and one said "thank you" as he left.
Robert Weiner, an administration spokesman and minor witness in the inquiry, said jurors "looked bored and were staring at the floor" during his appearance.
But they perked up when he repeatedly demanded to see his lawyer, who, like all defense attorneys, had to wait outside the room, Weiner said. Finally, a female juror called for a 10-minute recess.
"The prosecutor was not letting up," Weiner said, "and the jury realized I had my rights."
Another witness said the jurors routinely called for a 10-minute break every hour.
It is the grand jury's authority that allowed Starr to subpoena witnesses and gave him leverage to pressure Mr. Clinton to testify. After the president was subpoenaed to appear, prosecutors struck a deal in which he agreed to give his testimony from the White House with his lawyers present in exchange for the subpoena being withdrawn.
- The grand jury's composition (estimated from comments by witnesses and observers): 12 black women, six white women, two black men, and three white men, all middle-aged or older.
- Selected from: Registered voters, licensed drivers, and people issued non-driver identification cards in the District of Columbia.
- Length of service: Juries may serve terms of up to two years. This jury typically meets twice a week.
- Pay: $40 per day; increases to $50 after 45 days of service.
- Missed work: Federal government and city employees receive their full salaries, and many private employers also agree to pay for missed work.
- Benefits: $3 per day for public transportation; no parking space; no meals.
- Quorum: Sixteen of the 23 jurors must be present to hear testimony. Twelve votes are needed for an indictment.
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