The Big Bang Theory

By now the nation knows that Linda Tripp was worried about her bangs, that Monica Lewinsky was worried about her lack thereof with the president, and that an unworried Hillary Clinton thought her husband was simply "ministering" to a misguided youth outside the Oval Office.

We know this because Congress approved the release of testimony made before the federal grand jury that listened to all of the evidence gathered by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

But while we can wade through a cesspool of arcane D.C. details, the findings of another federal investigation have been deemed unfit for public consumption. We can learn all about that dress from the GAP, but there are gaping holes in our knowledge of the former nuclear-weapons plant just sixteen miles upwind from Denver.

That's because we still are not allowed to know what was said before another federal grand jury, the one that listened to over two years' worth of evidence concerning environmental crimes at Rocky Flats.

Those grand jurors have wanted to discuss their work since March 1992, when the U.S. Attorney cut short their deliberations by cutting a deal with Rockwell International, which had managed the facility for the Department of Energy. The grand jurors wrote a report of their investigation and asked the judge overseeing the grand jury to release it. He sealed it instead and signed off on the settlement.

Although a censored version of that report was later released, the testimony made before the grand jurors remains a secret, and the grand jurors themselves are still under court order not to breach confidentiality; if they do, they risk jail time. In August 1996, exactly seven years after the grand jury was first impaneled to consider evidence seized in the 1989 FBI raid of Rocky Flats, twenty of those jurors filed suit, asking that they at last be allowed to tell their story--if not to the world, then at least to a judge. That case is still pending in U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch's courtroom.

In the meantime, although we cannot hear the truth from the Rocky Flats grand jurors, we know all about Monica Lewinsky's shifting definition of it. "But think about the truth---okay?" she told Linda Tripp. "Think about truth. Truth is synonymous with good. Truth is supposed to be good...This is how I have looked at it."

We know how Monica spent her thirteen and a half hours behind closed doors with investigators, but we do not know what happened during two and a half years' of investigation by the Rocky Flats grand jury.

Under rule 6-c, Congress could exempt the jurors from confidentiality and allow them to speak--and to speak out about how the Justice Department stymied their attempts to find individuals culpable for environmental crimes. Several years ago the grand jurors were within days of cutting just such a deal when it was scotched by Representative David Skaggs, whose district includes Rocky Flats. He was worried about the Constitution, he said.

They were worried about the truth.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has been the grand jurors' lawyer for several years and filed their case in Matsch's court. These days he's discussing constitutional law, and impeachment, before a much larger audience: the people tuned into those pundit-filled national talk shows.

Ironically, as Congress debated whether to release the Starr report and the documentation behind it, many lawmakers relied on the arguments that Turley had made for releasing the Rocky Flats grand jurors' testimony. His office kept getting calls for copies of earlier memoranda that Turley had circulated on the Hill, back when he was still trying to convince Congress to lift rule 6-c and release testimony made before the grand jury.

"The arguments used to release the Lewinsky material are identical to the Rocky Flats case," says Turley. "Grand jury secrecy is not an absolute bar to disclosure. The Supreme Court has recognized that grand jury secrecy has, at times, given way to greater public interest--particularly when the greater purposes of secrecy are not abridged.

"Grand jury secrecy has very specific purposes, which are not at issue in either the Lewinsky case or the Rocky Flats case...and grand jury secrecy can be abused when it is used to withhold evidence from the public rather than protect the stated purposes of the rule."

Turley can't discuss specifics while the case is pending in Matsch's courtroom. But the grand jurors remain committed to getting the truth out.

So is grand jury foreman Wes McKinley, whose run for Congress in 1996 prevented him from being party to the suit. "Maybe if they'd found a pair of thong panties up at Rocky Flats," he muses, "we'd have told our story by now."

Secretary of State Vikki Buckley also wants to get her story out--the story that "election-year opportunists" are feeding lies to the media. And so she called a press conference last Thursday to wave a few newspaper clippings and ask for a "press moratorium on the publication of misinformation and half-truths" about her office.

But the negative stories about Buckley's abysmal work as Colorado's secretary of state far predate this election year. Since the career bureaucrat took over the office in 1994, over a dozen key employees, including two deputy secretaries, have quit; the office has gone through three elections-division directors, which goes a long way toward explaining why this fall's ballot measures are such a mess. A long way, but not all the way: Eric Dexheimer's September 17 story in Westword, "The Buckley Stops Here," did the rest.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Westword did not receive notice of Buckley's press conference. I arrived a few minutes late, and after the receptionist announced that representatives of Westword were there, a staffer stepped out from behind closed doors to say that the press conference had started and we would not be admitted. (A Republican Party representative was allowed in, however.) A few minutes later, Buckley's new campaign consultant, Sam Riddle, stepped back into the waiting area, said he hadn't realized what Westword was, and ushered us in. "Ask any questions you want," he said.

I never got the chance. Although Riddle himself managed to ask "Madame Secretary" about the $8.7 million that her office had returned to the general fund, when a reporter asked a trickier question, Buckley abruptly announced that she had another appointment and that the press conference was over. It was apparently news to Riddle that his new boss had scheduled an appointment fifteen minutes after her press conference to "set the record straight," because she walked out of the room while he was still telling reporters to identify their media outlets when they asked questions.

All in all, the miscommunication seemed par for the course at the secretary of state's office. So did the hiring of Riddle, a longtime political operative who just happened to be free because he'd been dismissed from the last campaign he'd worked for, fired by a candidate who accused him of being "erratic." Riddle returned the favor, claiming that the campaign was racist and that the candidate was nothing more than a "media creation." That candidate? Geoffrey Fieger, the Democrat running for governor of Michigan, who counts among his most noteworthy credentials serving as attorney for Jack Kevorkian.

Making Riddle just the man to pull the plug on Buckley's candidacy, too, and put us out of our misery.

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