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Grand juries are in the business of handing out indictments, and their docility is infamous. A grand jury, the old maxim goes, will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it of them. But I didn't get that sense from this group of grand jurors. They somewhat reflected the demographics of the District of Columbia. The majority were African American and were disproportionately women. Most sat in black vinyl chairs with little desks in rows that were slightly elevated, as if it were a shabby classroom at a rundown college. A kindly African-American forewoman swore me in, and when I had to leave the room to consult with my attorneys, I asked her permission to be excused, not the prosecutor's, as is the custom. These grand jurors did not seem the types to passively indict a ham sandwich. I would say one-third of my 2 1/2 hours of testimony was spent answering their questions, not the prosecutor's, although he posed them on their behalf. I began to take notes but then was told I had to stop, so I'm reliant on memory.
For my part, I sat at the end of an L-shaped table next to one of the prosecutor's lawyers, who handed me various documents to review while an overhead projector displayed the documents on a screen near me. Virtually all the questions centered on the week of July 6, 2003. I was new to covering the Bush White House, having been the deputy Washington bureau chief for TIME. As it happens, that week was a big one at the White House. On that Sunday, the New York Times had published former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's now infamous Op-Ed describing his mission to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium to make nuclear weapons. Wilson said he had found no evidence of that and was confounded as to why the President would claim otherwise in his 2003 State of the Union address. As a freshly minted White House correspondent, I told the grand jury, I was all over that story by midweek, especially because it emerged as a likely candidate for TIME's cover the following Monday.
The grand jurors wanted to know what was on my mind, and I told them. The White House had done something it hardly ever does: it admitted a mistake. Shortly after Wilson's piece appeared, the White House said that the African uranium claim, while probably still true, should not have been in the President's State of the Union address because it hadn't been proved well enough. That was big news as the media flocked to find out who had vetted the President's speech. But at the same time, I was interested in an ancillary question about why government officials, publicly and privately, seemed to be disparaging Wilson. It struck me, as I told the grand jury, as odd and unnecessary, especially after their saying the President's address should not have included the 16-word claim about Saddam and African uranium.
I told the grand jurors that I was curious about Wilson when I called Karl Rove on Friday, July 11. Rove was an obvious call for any White House correspondent, let alone someone trying to prove himself at a new beat. As I told the grand jury--which seemed very interested in my prior dealings with Rove--I don't think we had spoken more than a handful of times before that. I recalled that when I got the White House job a couple of weeks earlier, I left a message for him trying to introduce myself and announce my new posting.