News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Stress, fees mount for Bush aides called to testify - The Boston Globe

By Sam Coates, Washington Post | September 18, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Sympathy can be hard to come by for White House officials who are summoned to appear before a grand jury.

Those whose identities remain a secret suffer in silence, discouraged from reaching out to friends for help. Those whose names leak into the public domain become lightning rods for rumor, suspicion, and innuendo, as politicians, commentators, and journalists try to divine a meaning behind each summons.

The latest White House staff member to face the grand jury is Susan Ralston, assistant to White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, who testified before the committee investigating the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

But while the politics of every appearance is picked over in minute detail, there is also a human story to each summons that often goes unexplored.

Witnesses face stress, uncertainty, and crippling lawyer's fees. And as prosecutors cast their net ever wider, inexperienced staff members with few financial assets are increasingly facing the emotional and financial burden of grand jury testimony.

Ralston appeared at the end of July on the same day as former Rove aide Israel ''Izzy" Hernandez, according to ABC News.

The reason Ralston, 37, was asked to testify remains unclear, but it has heightened suspicions that the locus of the investigation is Rove.

Ralston declined to discuss her grand jury experience for this article. Friends said she had not spoken with them about it.

Americans for Tax Reform's president, Grover Norquist, who described himself as a friend and a work contact, said he was unaware she had testified: ''It hasn't come up, and I haven't noticed anything, in work or other contact."

But veterans of past grand jury appearances -- including the investigation into Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky -- said that keeping silent compounded an already difficult process.

''It was an incredibly callous and demoralizing experience, one in which they gave no thought to the personal or financial ramifications," said Neel Lattimore, who was subpoenaed about 10 times as press secretary to Hillary Rodham Clinton. ''Nothing prepares you for what it's like."

Another former Clinton administration official agreed. ''It paralyzes you from doing your job," said the official who did not want to be identified. ''It turns your life upside down. I sat outside one grand jury room where I could hear the prosecutors screaming -- I'm not kidding -- screaming at a colleague of mine who was a witness."

The two former Clinton aides said the financial burden was crippling. Like many others, they had to pay their own legal bills, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some may qualify for partial reimbursement from the Justice Department, but this usually covers only a fraction of the outlay and can take as long as seven years to be paid out. White House aides are even barred from receiving free legal assistance.

''We spent our time on Capitol Hill, and none of us had any assets. It's a scary thing. Lots of people rented apartments, had no assets to their name," a former Clinton aide said. ''If you have a career in public service, you're being paid well under $100,000 a year, and you have student loans; you become paralyzed financially."

Lattimore said his parents loaned him money to cover his legal fees. Lattimore's lawyer, Adam Hoffinger, said that the bill for representing someone in a grand jury investigation is usually large. ''A white-collar grand jury investigation in D.C. or New York could cost a witness between $10,000 and $100,000, assuming no trial and no criminal exposure," he wrote in an e-mail.