Grand Jury Resumes Pentagon Session As Judge Denies Bid to Unseal Documents
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ While a grand jury met Wednesday to hear more evidence in the Pentagon bribery case, a federal judge refused a newspaper’s request that he unseal information filed by investigators to obtain search warrants against their prospective targets.
U.S. District Judge Claude A. Hilton said that public release of the affidavits would ″harm the process’ of the investigation. The contested material triggered the authorization, by various courts, of dozens of searches by federal agents around the country on June 14.
Meanwhile, the grand jury met for a second day to hear from the Justice Department team which has coordinated the massive, 2-year-old investigation, which came to public light only when the searches got under way.
There were no recognizable figures entering the proceedings Wednesday, and Joseph Aronica, assistant U.S. attorney, said ″there won’t be any luminaries″ called for a while.
The investigation centers around allegations that defense contractors and private defense consultants, many of whom are former Pentagon employees, bribed Defense Department employees for inside information that could be crucial to winning multimillion-dollar contracts.
Hilton rejected a motion by the Washington Times to unseal the affidavits upon which the June search warrants were based, after hearing Aronica argue that the material could tip off prospective defendants and ″lead to destruction of property″ not yet obtained by investigators.
Hilton agreed that ″it seems to me that release of this information now would harm the process.″
″There have been no charges filed, no indictments. ... The government is in the middle of a grand jury,″ Aronica told Hilton in his argument against the newspaper’s motion.
While he noted the case has a lot of public interest, Aronica said, ″there’s a greater public interest and that is that this investigation move forward with diligence and dispatch.″
Representing the newspaper, Jerome Barron told Hilton that ″the massive publicity already sought by the government in the middle of June has put all defense contractors under a cloud.″ The best way to clear the air is reveal what information the government has, he said.
Barron also argued that release of information could permit ″corrective action to be undertaken.″
He cited the July 1 order of Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, who froze contracts in nine military programs. Carlucci said he was acting on the basis of information in affidavits that had been unsealed the day before in Dallas, but he later lifted the suspension because he said a review of the contracts had shown that none were tainted.
Barron argued that there is ″tremendous public interest in the case″ and said the public should know the facts behind the search warrants.
Barron said he didn’t know if Hilton’s ruling would be appealed.
The affidavits have only been unsealed in Dallas. A U.S. magistrate in Los Angeles ordered affidavits released but was reversed by a U.S. District Court judge. A magistrate in Hyattsville, Md., ordered other affidavits kept under seal another 45 days.
U.S. District judges in St. Louis and Washington have rejected motions to unseal affidavits there, and the Pulitzer Publishing Co. on Tuesday asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency review of the ruling there.
In the St. Louis case, District Judge Clyde S. Cahill refused the publishing company’s efforts to review materials pertaining to a search warrant on McDonnell Aircraft Co., an arm of the giant defense contractor. The Pulitzer company, which publishes the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, asserted in a 28-page brief that it had a First Amendment right to review the court documents.
A magistrate in Minneapolis and the U.S. District Court in Connecticut are considering appeals by other news organizations to unseal affidavits there.