Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Josh Gerstein scored this exclusive earlier today, unfortunately not getting credit for his scoop. Well this blog gives him the credit due.

What does it mean that Fitzgerald met with the chief judge? Hard to say. However, he would have to do so to extend the life of the current grand jury, which expires on Friday, or to ask to empanel an entirely new one.

One thing to keep in mind: Just because Fitzgerald would want to extend the life of his grand jury does not mean that he is not about to soon bring charges. Even if the sitting grand jury were to bring charges, Fitzgerald would still want a grand jury to continue to hear evidence.

Why? He might want to bring charges against a potential defendant now, as he considers additional charges. Or there is always a possibility that a potential defendant... once convicted, might "flip" and later implicate someone else. I'm not saying that is the case here, but that is routine in federal criminal white collar investigations.

But don't take my word for anything! This morning, when I spoke to Josh, I told him that I thought it would be a massive waste of time to stake out the grand jury room near the federal courthouse. There would be so many reporters there, there was no way he would score an exclusive of some kind... Obviously, if I know so little about journalism, how could I know much about the law?

Below are excerpts from Josh's story:

Prosecutor Meets With Chief Judge
Could Signal That Fitzgerald Is Seeking Extension

BY JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
October 26, 2005

WASHINGTON—The federal prosecutor investigating the alleged involvement of White House officials in the leak of a CIA operative’s identity spent most of the lunch hour today meeting with the chief judge of the federal district court in the nation’s capital, Judge Thomas Hogan.

As reporters massed outside an elevator lobby leading to the grand jury rooms, the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, apparently slipped out a back exit to conduct the noontime meeting with Judge Hogan.

Mr. Fitzgerald declined to comment as he and a colleague emerged from the judge’s chambers just before 1 p.m.

The prosecutor’s visit to the chief judge could signal that Mr. Fitzgerald wants to continue his investigation, either by extending the term of the current grand jury or begin presenting evidence to a new jury. The grand jury that has heard witnesses in the leak case was set to shut down on Friday.

Under federal law, most grand juries are limited to two years. The present one appears to be reaching its legal time limit, but because of the secrecy surrounding the process it is difficult to know for certain.

Prosecutors involved in the politically-sensitive probe met with grand jurors for about three hours this morning, before wrapping up business at the courthouse for the day.

There were also other reasons to expect that the investigation, once believed to be concluding this week, may continue.

It was not clear why Mr. Fitzgerald chose to use a back stairway or elevator to reach his session with the chief judge, but if he took the usual route he would likely have been followed by a parade of journalists who gathered at the courthouse to await predicted indictments in the case.

Reporters expressed bewilderment as Mr. Fitzgerald returned to the grand jury area without ever having appeared to have left.

In addition to the grand juries, Judge Hogan also oversees most of the practical aspects of running the courthouse. It is possible that Mr. Fitzgerald’s visit was to discuss how court personnel would cope with the indictment and arraignment of high-profile White House officials.

A former prosecutor who worked with Mr. Fitzgerald in New York said it was impossible to say for certain what the meeting was about.

“If he wanted to extend the grand jury, he’d have to ask the chief judge,” the ex-prosecutor, Joshua Berman, said. “It’s obviously a process that Pat is familiar with.”

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