IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Historic grand jury rooms retired

Reporters covering the CIA Leak investigation at U.S. District Court in Washington were given a rare tour of the grand jury rooms, which closed for good this week when a new annex opened.  NBC News' Joel Seidman reports.

Reporters covering the CIA leak investigation were given a rare tour of the grand jury rooms in U.S. District court this week after they were closed for good and a new court annex opened on Monday.

Grand Jury Room No. 2 is where prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald questioned witnesses, including presidential adviser Karl Rove, New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper, in the CIA name leak investigation.

The windowless room, now set for renovations, looked like a shabby college classroom, a fluorescent-lit wood-paneled chamber filled with slightly elevated rows of black vinyl chairs with folding desk attachments. A water fountain and clock are the only distinguishing features on the far wall. In the well of the room are a desk and easel for displaying evidence. Court officials said witnesses would usually take questions while standing in front of jurors and would only sit if appearing for extended periods of time.

There are four grand jury rooms in district court. Rove, Miller and Cooper are only the latest in a line of important witnesses to see the inside of them.  The rooms have witnessed plenty of history, from Oliver North during the Iran Contra investigation to Hillary Clinton during Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky during the scandal that rocked President Clinton's presidency.

Reporters, producers and sketch artists covering a grand jury would line up behind a rope line — sitting was strictly forbidden — on the third floor terrazzo hallway and wait for an elevator to bring the day's first grand jury witness. A wall of frosted glass separated them from the grand jury rooms.

The reporters' view of the hallway leading to the grand jury rooms is almost totally obscured, and they were reduced to peeking for shadows or reflected images on the hallway's highly polished beige marble wall.

Sometimes, reporters would figure out that a witness was tied to an investigation only when they recognized their lawyers. By then, it was almost too late for the sketch artists, who had only two or three seconds to see a face before the witness’ back was turned.

One notable witness during the Clinton/Lewinsky investigation was Vernon Jordan.

As Lena Sun wrote that day in the Washington Post before Jordan went before Ken Starr, "He charmed reporters and court personnel by reciting several lines from "Purlie Victorious," a 1961 play and later Broadway musical that pokes fun at the clichés about white masters' devotion to their black slaves in the Old South."

Sun wrote, "'May your own dreams be your only boundaries,' Jordan declared as he took the pose of the play's main character, a preacher named Purlie Victorious Johnson, spreading his arms and placing a hand on the shoulder of a deputy U.S. marshal."