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Chandra Levy: Missing Person or Victim of Foul Play?

Aired July 5, 2001 - 12:30   ET



CHARLES RAMSEY, D.C. POLICE CHIEF: She either left on her own accord and doesn't want to be found, she may have committed suicide but that's unlikely because we probably would have found the body by now or she met with some kind of foul play. We're exploring all three of those avenues. The odds of her taking her own life diminish as time goes on because, again, I mean you can't kill yourself and bury herself. So I mean, you know, at some point in time a body does surface. And that's the part that's very, very -- we're very concerned about.


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: When does the search for a missing person become a search for a murder victim? Where is Washington intern Chandra Levy?

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

This morning, D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey said the good news is they've found nothing to suggest Washington intern Chandra Levy has met with foul play. But the bad news is they've found nothing at all. And now investigators are reportedly interested in women who may have had a romantic relationship with Congressman Gary Condit.

Now, earlier this week, flight attendant Anne Marie Smith said she had an affair with Condit and that he asked her to lie about it. Condit's chauffeur, Vincent Flammini, believes that Smith and Condit did have an affair.


VINCENT FLAMMINI, FORMER DRIVER FOR REP. GARY CONDIT: No doubt in my mind whatsoever that they were having an affair. I know Gary's angry with me. We were like brothers. But I'm not a liar. I'm not going to lie for no one. And someday this is all going to go to court and I'm going to get up and tell the judge the same thing. I am not going to lie. There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that they had a relationship and they were lovers.


COSSACK: Condit was a no-show in Modesto, California yesterday for his district's Fourth of July festivities.

Now joining us today, in Houston, Texas, former FBI investigator Don Clark. And in New York, criminal defense attorney Mel Sachs.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is covering this story in Washington. And joining us from Modesto, California is CNN correspondent Rusty Dornin.

Well, Rusty, tell us about the congressman. Yesterday, we -- as we've indicated, he didn't show up for the Modesto Fourth of July parade. I know a little bit about Modesto. And I know what an important even that is. So, it's rather unusual that the congressman wasn't there.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's very unusual, Roger, because he has always shown up over the years to the Modesto parade as well as to the parade in Atwater, which is about 50 miles south. I mean we're talking about 19, 20 years where he goes every year and appears to wave to the crowds.

We didn't know -- he had planned to come to the parade. But we do understand the staff had agonized over whether he would appear at the parades beforehand or the preceding week. And then it wasn't until about a half hour before each parade started that the parade organizers got a call from the staff headquarters saying that Congressman Condit would not appear in the parade. The reason given to those parade organizers was that he would be with family and that he didn't want to be a distraction to the main events of the day.

Now, of course, most of the people attending the parades don't go there to see the politicians. But there were a few people I talked to that did show up out of curiosity, to see if the congressman would appear.

COSSACK: Now, Rusty, what about the alternative, if you will, parade, or the parade that was organized by friends of Chandra Levy's mother and father? They paraded during the parade as sort of an alternative, wore yellow armbands or had yellow balloons and marched in silence. Tell us about that.

DORNIN: They call it a silent march. They said -- they only would say that they were friends of the Levy family and of course, didn't want to comment on Condit or anything to do with that investigation. And they simply marched before the parade up each side of the street and down the other side and handing out yellow ribbons to people. And the signs they carried, of course, had the picture of Chandra and also the fact that they're offering a $45,000 reward.

COSSACK: What kind of reception did those people get from the crowd?

DORNIN: People were anxious to receive the yellow ribbons. You know, there were -- obviously, people were very, you know, glad to see them as part of a remembrance. There are a lot of people in this town that know the Levy family. This is obviously a huge tragedy here for people that are upset about her disappearance. So I think -- and they staged it so that it would not be actually part of the parade. They tried to do it before it began. They simply wanted to remember Chandra and keep in people's minds that this is still very important.

COSSACK: And Rusty, your sense of what the crowd was thinking yesterday about the fact that the congressman did not appear and what kind of support does he have in Modesto?

DORNIN: Well, it's very interesting. This is a man who's been reelected countless times and usually by fairly large margins like 70 to 30, that sort of thing. People are conservative here. They're very loyal towards the people they elect. They usually keep them in office for a long time.

There are a large number of people who don't like the fact that there is -- that the press has been mounting such an aggressive attack on Condit. For those people, there's sort of a backlash, you know. Until they hear it from his mouth, he's innocent until proven guilty and there's no doubt in their mind.

But there are a growing number of people who are saying, "Hey, wait a minute, let's hear something, you know. Quit hiding. At least step out in front of the cameras and answer a few questions."

COSSACK: All right, our thanks to CNN's Rusty Dornin form Modesto.

Let's now go to Washington to CNN's Bob Franken, who's been covering this story.

Bob, the chief of police had a press conference today that you covered -- anything new?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the one thing we found out is that the long publicized search of landfills with cadaver dogs, which are exactly what their name implies, began without our knowing about it. Now, what's interesting is that the police chief has been extremely distracted by all the media attention, has instructed his people, as a matter of fact, to put a lid on some of the publicity, some of the leaks. And he wasn't able to get away with that one.

Now, the police continue to emphasize that the search should not be considered an ominous thing. Obviously if you take cadaver dogs out to landfill, there's an obvious implication that they're looking for Chandra Levy there. The police say that is not the case. They just want to exhaust all possibilities. And they began doing that at an unspecified time earlier this week. So, that is the news that came out of it.

The chief repeatedly said that Congressman Condit is not the focus of this investigation. They -- there is such an emphasis on him in the media and the allegations about a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy that that is where the focus -- the public focus has been. But sources in the police department, confirmed today by the chief, said they had talked to about 100 different people and some of them are more import they say than Congressman Condit. Still it is the congressman who has been the focus and his private life, which of course is getting more and more exposure, private life real and imagined. But as the chief said, he's not really interested in that, saying, "We're not the sex police."

COSSACK: Bob, what about the interview with Congressman Condit's wife? Is it any closer to happening?

FRANKEN: Well, we're going to probably find out afterwards. There's obviously an interest on the part of the Condit family to keep this as private as possible. Chances are we'll find out after it occurred. We have not heard that yet. In fact, we've heard quite the opposite, that there's been a real fit and start aspect of this, that the FBI and the Condits have not been able to get together on this. We are told that over the weekend, the Condits were willing to come down to his office in Modesto and go through that interview. But that the federal agents had to, in fact, cancel out.

Now what is it they want? Well, they only found out recently that the congressman claimed that Carolyn Condit, his wife, was in Washington at that period of time when Chandra Levy disappeared. They want to ask her about whatever she can contribute to their body of knowledge and to see if she can contribute anything, any sort of clue, even if she doesn't have indication in her mind that it is a clue, that might give new knowledge about where Chandra Levy could be. It's been nine weeks since she disappeared.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Bob, we're going to ask you to stay with us and let's talk about, when we come back, when and if a missing person can become a homicide investigation. So stick around and we'll find out.


Former U.S. Representative Edward Mezvinsky will plead not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of fraud, according to papers filed in federal court by his defense attorney. Mezvinsky, who represented Iowa from 1973 to 1977, was indicted in March on 66 counts of fraud and related charges.




RAMSEY: The good news is that we haven't found anything that indicates that she's met with foul play. The bad news is that we haven't found anything at all, period. So, the longer it goes, the more concerned we get. And granted, when you look at it, you know, the odds are not real good but there are a lot of people in this country that come up missing. And again, at some later point in time, they show up for whatever reason.


COSSACK: This morning, Washington police chief Charles Ramsey repeated that the case of missing intern Chandra Levy remains just that, a missing persons case. But at what point should police begin to suspect Levy might have met with foul play?

Don Clark of the FBI, is there a time when it just is unavoidable, when the police investigation or the FBI investigation has to take a different turn and become a criminal investigation? And furthermore, if it does, what does that mean?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, Roger, yes, there may come a time when the law enforcement people will take a different step on this. But that's going to all be based on the evidence that they collect.

Now keep in mind, there's a lot of people being talked to now from what we understand in this case and they're gathering information. But that information in and of itself may not lead to the fact that there is some criminal activity. Until that evidence makes the connectivity, then you don't have a criminal investigation going on. So, they're going to have to proceed with it as a missing person.

COSSACK: Don, when does this -- when do the events change? I mean, look, I probably can tell you and I think -- you know, many people I speak to say, "Look, this young woman, she's probably dead." And it's a horrible conclusion, but there comes a time when she's been gone, missing, you know, not any hint of her. When do the police then say a different assumption?

CLARK: Well, Roger, as harsh as this may be and no matter how long the person has been missing or is missing, until there is some evidence that a crime has been committed that's caused the missing of this person, it's probably going to remain as a missing person. That's why they got all of these law enforcement people working with this investigation to try and see if there has been some foul play that can make that transformation from a person who's missing, who perceivably could have walked away some place, to a person who's missing but not missing on their own accord and some criminal activity caused them to be missing.

When that crops up on the screen, then that's when you're going to engage in a criminal investigation. And you might see people at that point starting to be interviewed and accompanied by rights being read and other aspects of the law.

COSSACK: Don, the difference between, I suppose, a criminal investigation and a missing persons investigation is just what you said, people getting interviewed with rights, perhaps arrests being made. But isn't it one of these situations where what comes first, the chicken or the egg? I mean until you start doing those kinds of things that we just talked about, you know, that -- those kinds of investigations, those kinds of interviews, are we -- are the police ever going to be able to find out the kind of information that they need to know? CLARK: Well, not necessarily, Roger, because to go with someone -- if you're conducting an investigation for a missing person and you have you no real reason and no probable cause whatsoever to feel like these people need to know their rights so that they can be protected in some way, I don't see that that's going to advance the investigation any -- at all because unless there's something out there that you or I or anybody else don't know about at this point, they are still basically traipsing through the weeds trying to see what happened to this young lady or any other missing person.

There has to be something that's going to pop up on the screen. And maybe -- they may have that. We don't know what the law enforcement people have in their possession at this time. But until that evidence pops up, I doubt if you're going to see that.

COSSACK: Bob, you mentioned earlier that there are cadaver dogs being used. You know, that's an indication to me that obviously these dogs are trained to find bodies. In your covering of this case, do you have a sense that there is a greater concern among the Washington, D.C. police people that there may be a body to be found?

FRANKEN: Well, that's certainly the question that has been raised repeatedly. And repeatedly, the various police involved in this, from supervisors on down, very emphatically, say that is not the case. It is just a matter of dealing with almost the infinite number of possibilities. Any number of people find that really an implausible answer. But the police insist that is the case. They're just exploring every possibility.

That it's no different from when they use those same dogs to explore Rock Creek Park, which is an area in Washington where a lot of people run. Chandra Levy was somebody who was really into physical exercise. They've explored the waterfronts. We know all of that. And this is just another aspect of it, that they're pursuing these matters without any regard really to any leads. That's what they claim. But of course, everybody is wondering. This one has such a morbid possibility to it that many people are focusing on that.

COSSACK: Don, why the FBI? Why is the FBI involved in this? Why isn't it just solely the Washington Police Department?

CLARK: Well, there's a couple of reasons there, Roger. Even long before I retired several years ago, the FBI started to become involved with local police and looking at a number of areas that cause problems for society to include missing persons, in particular children. Keeping in mind though that in Washington, D.C., there is a special relationship between the FBI and the District police because Washington, D.C., is, in fact, a federal jurisdiction. So I suspect that between those two agencies, that they have this all worked out through agreements as to when they get together on certain cases.

This is a very prudent move, though, that they've made because looking at where this young lady's home is and where she came from, there is a possibility -- a great possibility that across this nation, from shore to shore, that there may be some aspects that could lead to either the locating of her or the key of evidence that could take this investigation to another step.

COSSACK: And of course, one of the things we do know is that the FBI has tremendous assets, nationwide assets, that could help out in this investigation too.

CLARK: Absolutely. And instantaneously, as you saw us down here in Texas on a number of occasions, that with one telephone call or one wire a lot of information can be transformed throughout this country.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

Now if you were Congressman Condit's lawyer, what would you tell him to do? Let's talk about that right after this. Stay with us.


Q: What star of an HBO series was arrested and charged with robbery and the unlawful possession of marijuana on Wednesday?



A: 16-year-old Robert Iler from "The Sopranos". Iler and three of his friends allegedly robbed two teenagers of $40. Iler pleaded not guilty and was released on $2,500 bail.



RAMSEY: There are a lot of missing person cases that can be unusual circumstances that we investigate. But what makes this one unique and was drawing all of the attention has nothing to do with her bags being packed and her missing her graduation. It has everything to do with the fact that a congressman happens to be one of the people that we're talking to in this case.


COSSACK: Welcome back.

Now, much of the investigation into the missing intern, Chandra Levy, has focused on an alleged relationship with Congressman Gary Condit. So, if you were Congressman Condit's attorney, what kind of advise would you give? To answer that question we have Mel Sachs from New York.

Mel, into your office comes Congressman Condit and he says, "You know, I've got these problems -- and I have a lot of problems. One of which is I'm an elected official and I have my constituents to worry about. And another thing is that my name keeps getting linked with this young woman who apparently is lost and can't be found." What do you say and how do you advise him?

MEL SACHS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Roger, a public person is different than the ordinary individual who's being accused. And when you speak about whether or not it's a missing person investigation or a criminal investigation, it's a very gray area. The public's perception of innocence is extremely significant here. A media campaign must be engaged. What's necessary is for the congressman to maintain a strong position now because if he later comes out and says, "I'm innocent", it appears to be an afterthought. He must, at this time, adopt a position and maintain it.

However, the worst thing that could be done is be involved in something which would obstruct justice, something that would interfere with this investigation. The fact is over 100 people were spoken to and certainly, everything is pointing to him as having a relationship with her. And everyone in the street is saying, "Is he innocent? Is he guilty?"

This is what happens. The court of public opinion seeps into a court of law. The presumption of innocence may apply in a courtroom. However, in the public's eye, there's a certain presumption regarding an individual and the person must come forward.

COSSACK: All right, Mel, let me give you this problem that I think, therefore -- and I think you're articulating. On one hand, you got a public person, a congressman, who obviously has to answer to the public. On the other hand, you have a client. And I know criminal defense lawyers. The first thing they're going to say to their client and rightfully so is, "You know what, don't say anything". That's the cardinal rule.

On the other hand, you have an individual, as we just said, who probably has to say something. And how do you balance those two?

SACHS: Roger, as lawyers, we recognize the distinction between a public figure and someone who's not. Even in the defamation law, when somebody is charged with slander or with libel, there's a distinction between the two.

Someone who is in the public eye must take a stand. You certainly, as you said, advise a client to remain silent. However, this is a person that everyone is looking at, that everyone knows. When he stays away from certain activities on July 4 or when he tries to avoid answering questions, there is a significant view of him, which is negative and which will remain unless he does something about it, and this has to be done. This isn't like in England where the media can't cover cases.

In America, in this day and age, everything is being watched and someone publicly, like him, must come forward.

COSSACK: All right, let me talk to Don Clark for just a second.

Don, it's been reported that Congressman Condit sent a message or sent an affidavit to the stewardess asking her to not necessarily tell the truth or to try and deny the fact they had a relationship or perhaps an affair. As an FBI investigator, what role would that play in your investigation? And this is all allegations, of course. We don't know if it's true or not. But for purposes of your investigation, what role would that play?

CLARK: Roger, I think what I would look at as an investigator or someone who managed investigations is that where are we with this particular case. A missing persons case is not considered, to an investigator, a criminal case again until there's evidence that's gotten to that point.

Now, if it's a criminal case and that type of activity is taking place, I mean clearly, we're talking about a person who is obstructing justice or maybe getting into that area of obstructing justice. And that's a crime. So that in and of itself would be a crime whether the person has some involvement or not. That would be a crime and an investigator would look at that with a very jaundiced eye.

COSSACK: All right and I want to stress again one more time to our viewers, of course, that these are allegations. We do not know at all whether or not that -- what the stewardess is saying is true and with -- and then, of course, that Congressman Condit says that that's not true.

But I'm afraid that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests. Thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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