Jason Leopold: Sealed vs. Sealed
Sealed vs. Sealed
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Monday 12 June 2006
Four weeks ago, during the time when we reported that White House political adviser Karl Rove was indicted for crimes related to his role in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, the grand jury empanelled in the case returned an indictment that was filed under seal in US District Court for the District of Columbia under the curious heading of Sealed vs. Sealed.
As of Friday afternoon that indictment, returned by the grand jury the week of May 10th, remains under seal - more than a month after it was handed up by the grand jury.
The case number is "06 cr 128." On the federal court's electronic database, "06 cr 128" is listed along with a succinct summary: "No further information is available."
We have not seen the contents of the indictment "06 cr 128". But the fact that this indictment was returned by the grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case on a day that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met with the grand jury raised a number of questions about the identity of the defendant named in the indictment, whether it relates to the leak case, and why it has been under seal for a month under the heading Sealed vs. Sealed.
True, the grand jury in the CIA leak case also meets to hear evidence on other federal criminal cases, including at least one other high-profile case - crimes related to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
The lead prosecutor on the Abramoff case is Peter Zeidenberg, who has worked alongside Patrick Fitzgerald in the CIA leak investigation for more than two years and has spent a considerable amount of time investigating Karl Rove's role in the leak. Zeidenberg is currently prosecuting David Safavian, who is on trial in US District Court, charged with obstruction and lying about his contacts with Abramoff.
Still, legal experts watching the Plame-Wilson investigation have been paying particularly close attention to Sealed vs. Sealed since the Karl Rove indictment story was published.
The legal scholars have said that a federal prosecutor can keep an indictment under seal for weeks or months - something that is commonplace in high-profile criminal cases - especially if an investigation, such as the CIA leak probe, is ongoing.
When told about the Sealed vs. Sealed indictment filed in US District Court, the legal experts became intrigued about the case because they say that most federal criminal indictments are filed under US vs. Sealed and that they rarely come across federal criminal indictments titled Sealed vs. Sealed, which to them suggests the prosecutor felt it necessary to add an extra layer of secrecy to an indictment to keep it out of public view.
"The question here is that nobody who I have spoken to - top criminal attorneys, law professors, etc. - is aware of the left part of the case title having been sealed," said one former federal criminal attorney. "That the right-hand side is sealed is almost pro-forma. But, what is not known is whether the US Attorney can seal the left hand part of the case title on his own."
The fact that the indictment has been under seal for more than a month also suggests that it involves a high-profile investigation, he said.
Additionally, it's entirely plausible for a federal prosecutor to obtain permission from a federal magistrate or a judge, have an indictment unsealed for the limited purpose of having parts of it read to a defendant and his or her attorneys in an attempt to have the defendant cooperate with an investigation to avoid facing further charges, legal experts said.
Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and will be a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t. He is the author of the new book NEWS JUNKIE. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.