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No Foul Play Suspected in Chandra's Case

Aired July 9, 2001 - 12:30   ET



ABBE LOWELL, CONDIT ATTORNEY: The Congressman has been totally cooperative with the police. They know all the facts. I hope it helps them find Chandra Levy. Everything else about this is a matter of privacy among the Condit family.



RICHARD THORNBURGH, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Anyone who's been involved in an investigation whether it's civil, criminal or whatever, knows that it's important to get this information early on, within the first 24 to 48 hours. And now it's two months later that he finally acknowledges apparently that there was an affair between them.


ROGER COSSACK, HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, Washington police are still calling this a missing person's case, as new developments are surfacing about the relationship between U.S. Congressman Gary Condit and Chandra Levy. But now, the parents of the 24-year-old missing Washington intern are calling for the Congressman to take a lie detector test but Condit's legal team says, you know what, it's time for the investigation to focus elsewhere.

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

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. The missing persons case of Washington intern Chandra Levy continues as new information is revealed about her relationship with U.S. Congressman, Gary Condit. Now the parents of Levy are asking the California lawmaker to take a lie detector test, but according to Condit's lawyer, well, the police are satisfied with his answers to their questions.

According to law enforcement sources, Condit now admits to an intimate relationship with the 24-year-old Levy. And this contradicts the earlier statements from his office, but police still say he's not a suspect. Condit's attorney, Abbe Lowell, made the weekend talk-show circuit and blasted the media for reporting inaccuracies and intruding on his clients privacy. He has said and said that Condit has cooperated fully with the police.


LOWELL: He has given them every shred of information to help them try to find her. And what he has said to them, and what they have said back is just not something that we're sharing with the public or the media for a couple of reasons, one of which, this is an ongoing case. Wolf, this woman has not been found. And we could inadvertently make things harder to find her by giving public disclosure of bits and pieces of information that only the police have the right to know.


COSSACK: Joining us today here in Washington are Michael Haley- Gritzbaugh and attorney Barry Pollack, a colleague of Condit attorney Abbe Lowell. And private investigator Howard Miller, a former Washington detective with expertise in polygraph examinations. And in the back row, Angelica Rubio, Stephen Veehill, and Clara Fields. And also joining us here in Washington, CNN national correspondent Bob Franken.

Well, Bob, the Levy family said, "Way why don't you take a lie detector test, Congressman Condit?"

And Congressman Condit said you know, "Thanks, but no thanks."

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sort of. The response to it doesn't mention the responses whatsoever, but the responses come from Abbe Lowell, who is of course the lawyer and the public spokesman for Condit in the absence. He has put out a statement which says, "We understand that the Levy family wants to do all it can to find Chandra, but police have stated that they are fully satisfied with Congressman Condit's cooperation and with the answers to every single question they have posed. The police have also stated that the Congressman is not a suspect. In light of Police Chief Gainer's statements, surely the time has come to focus less on Congressman Condit and more on the 99 other people police have identified who might be helpful in providing information that could find Chandra."

Now the police -- that number 99 comes from the fact that the police chief says about 100 people have been interviewed in pursuit of information -- most of those, the large bulk of them, are friends and families and colleagues, and in particular some of the 135 people they believe were in Washington Sport Club on the day that Chandra Levy was last seen as she canceled her membership.

This is an extensive investigation. Of course as we reported, they're expected this week to take cadaver dogs, kind of the ominous sound, but they're taking cadaver dogs out to landfill areas around Washington to see if they can turn up any information, Of course they're hoping that really don't.

COSSACK: You know, Bob, we have seen the chief and he said three things can happen -- could have happened to this woman. Either she was abducted and murdered, either she has committed suicide or, three, she perhaps is missing. But you know, when the police now take cadaver dogs, seems to me they don't think that she has just run away and is missing someplace on her own -- that they think that's an indication that they may believe that, you know, she's dead. Do you have any inside information or any indication from the police of how their investigation is beginning to changing focus?

FRANKEN: Well, they insist - they aggressively insist that is not the case. They just say that they've used cadaver dogs before. And now they want to use them in this way. They want to take them to the landfill areas, as opposed to the park area where a lot of joggers go and as opposed to waterfront areas that they've done before. They insist that is not something that changes the nature of it.

And I tell you, there's one thing that we might factor in as an indication of that, they made their decision about week and a half to two weeks ago, and they still haven't done it yet. So they have not been intensely pushing this, which might suggest this is not something where they have any definite ideas of what they might find.

COSSACK: All right. Joining is me is Barry Pollack, a colleague of Abbe Lowell.

Barry, let knee get something straight in terms of what the reporting has been. Did Congressman Condit initially deny that he had a sexual relationship or an intimate affair which Chandra Levy when he was interviewed the first two times by the police?

BARRY POLLACK, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Roger, I was not in any of the interviews. But from my understanding, Congressman Condit has been candid with the police throughout, through all three of his interviews. The chief of police has made a public statement saying that the congressman was candid, that he's answered all their questions and there's no additional information they need from the Congressman.

I wish, in my case is I would have the chief of police getting on national television and telling the world that my client has been fully cooperative and answered all questions posed to him.

COSSACK: As you know, candid does not necessarily mean truthful. These two words don't necessarily -- are not synonymous. So, I mean, was he truthful in telling about his intimate relationship at the beginning? Or has he now just decided -- or has he now just told that fact? Or was it just his office that denied it and this is the first time that he had the ability to actually confirm or deny that fact?

POLLACK: I have never seen anywhere where anyone has said that the Congressman spoke to the issue at all, outside of the context of his interviews with the police. He's clearly made the decision that his personal life is no one's business but his own and his family's. That being said, even though he has no obligation whatsoever to talk to the police -- he's not a suspect, there's no criminal investigation -- even if there were, he'd have no obligation to talk to them. In an effort to help them, he has spoken with them.

COSSACK: Right. POLLACK: I haven't heard him denying or admitting any relationship in any public forum.

COSSACK: But it is true, isn't it, that his office did make the statements initially that he did not -- that the way to describe the relationship between him and Chandra Levy was that they were good friends. And then later on, apparently, that has now been changed to say they were more than good friends.

So initially, his office did put out a statement that, at least, in my opinion, downplayed the type of relationship they really had.

POLLACK: Well, I think that his office did put out a statement that characterized the relationship as a friendship. Now, whether he has, in fact, elaborated on that with the police or not, we don't know.

COSSACK: Why do you think -- I mean, and I'm asking you this as a colleague of Abbe's. And you know, and Abbe was on all the television stations, as we've seen, Abbe Lowell, as saying that he tells the police is his business and he's out to protect his privacy. But why then would you think that his office would put out a misleading statement initially?

POLLACK: Well, again, I don't know that the statement was misleading. I don't know if the staff member had complete information. What I do know is that the Congressman has decided that any information that he chooses to share, at least at this time, while there's an open pending investigation, he's going to share it with the police and not with the public.

And I think that that is an understandable decision. And frankly, I think it's one the press ought to respect. I think that you make the job of the police all the more difficult if you report on what are supposed to be confidential conversations, their ability to get other people to come in and speak with them in the future.

COSSACK: And you know, I -- let me just say that I agree with you, but don't you think in some ways the Congressman brought a little of this on himself by the fact of having his office issue a statement at the beginning which turns out to be, at least one could argue, somewhat different than the one that now comes out?

POLLACK: Well, I think that a number of people have brought this situation to where it is today. I think that in my mind it was a mistake for Congressman's staff members to attempt publicly to characterize the relationship at all. I think that they learned what others have learned before is that you can't give a little bit of information. It only raises more questions than it answers.

Having learned that lesson, I think that they have made decision that they're not going to discuss the issue publicly. I think that's an understandable one. And while I agree with Abbe that the media should be very cautious in attempting to report from unnamed sources confidential conversations with the police, I also want to note that it would appear, at least from what's publicly been reported, that it's police sources that the media are talking to. And I find that all the more troubling, because certainly the media's job is to get information out to extent that they can.

It's the police's job, just the opposite, to keep confidential conversations confidential, to encourage people to do exactly what Congressman Condit has done here, which is share what he knows with the police so that they can get back to the business at hand which is trying to find Ms. Levy.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. We're going to have more developments in the Chandra Levy case right after this, so please don't go away.


COSSACK: Even after Congressman Gary Condit admitted to the police that he had had an affair with Chandra Levy, well, her parents are not satisfied with the elected official's answers. Robert and Susan Levy want Condit to take a polygraph test to prove that he has disclosed everything he knows about their missing daughter, but Condit's legal team is resisting the idea. Barry, I don't mean to pick on you, but why resist the idea?

In light of the fact that there's been some conflicting statements, some - perhaps however we want to characterize what happened at the beginning to what happened at the end, why not take a lie detector test?

POLLACK: Well, I think there are a couple of different points here, Roger. First of all, Congressman Condit, even -- again, even if he were a suspect, and he's not...

COSSACK: And he's not.

POLLACK: ... would not be placed in a position of having to prove his innocence. And there's a good reason for that. It's very difficult to prove a negative.

COSSACK: I'm going to agree with you and say that he's not a suspect, and there's no reason for him to prove his innocence. And I'm going to argue that perhaps he may want to take a lie detector test just because of the fact that he's in the -- he's a Congressman, he's in the public eye. He stands for reelection. And there is this troubling thought of what was disclosed at the beginning and what was disclosed at the end.

POLLACK: And I guess that brings me to my second point, Roger. Lie detector tests or polygraphs results are notoriously unreliable. Whoever administers the test does it with a great deal of subjectivity. People can pass lie detector tests that are untruthful. People that are truthful cannot pass the lie detector test. There is absolutely no reason at this point to submit to a type of testing that is notoriously unreliable. The police are, of course, the ones running this investigation, with all due respect...

COSSACK: Yes. POLLACK: ... to Ms. Levy's family members and her counsel and her PR team...

COSSACK: Absolutely.

POLLACK: ... all of whom very understandably want to do everything that they can to keep this story alive and to spur on the investigation. The police here have said that they are very satisfied with Congressman Condit's level of responsiveness, his level of cooperation, his truthfulness. So there's absolutely no reason to take a lie detector test. And, again, lie detector tests are considered very unreliable.


POLLACK: They are not admissible in courts, and for good reason.

COSSACK: All right, let's talk to Howard Miller.

Howard, Barry says that there's a couple good of reasons, but one main reason is, he says, "Look, you know, there's no way to rely on this particular test," That they're inadmissible in court most of the times, and there's a reason for that, and it's not going the help him.

Well, I'm going toy eliminate the part about having to prove the negative and innocent until proven guilty, because we're all going to agree with that and that Congressman Condit is not a suspect. Having said that, tell me a little bit about lie detector tests and how reliable and unreliable they are?

HOWARD MILLER, FORMER D.C. DETECTIVE: Well, the polygraph test system has been around a long time, since before World War II. And there's a utility to the test. It is a valid investigative tool. Attorneys -- well, it's a valid argument to say that maybe if something doesn't work with absolute certainty, that we do not want to convict people. But on the other hand, it's an investigative tool.

COSSACK: Well, what do you mean by investigative tool? What does it do to aid in an investigation?

MILLER: Well, in this particular case, there's a lot of pressure coming, from the family particularly...


MILLER: ... to focus on the Congressman. The police will admit that -- I don't want to speak for the police, but they seem to admit publicly that they're satisfied with his explanations as his attorney says.

COSSACK: He's not a suspect.

MILLER: But the point is that in the real world, if a polygraph test was given to the Congressman in the investigative role, we could certainly with comfort eliminate him as a suspect. We can focus attention on the other 100 or so potential suspects that are out there.

COSSACK: All right, Barry says, and he's absolutely right, that he's not a suspect. And so, the police have at least at this moment eliminated him from being a suspect.


COSSACK: Is it more your thoughts, in terms of the real world, meaning public opinion, this would help him in terms of public opinion?

MILLER: Well, there's the risk of not passing for whatever reason.


MILLER: And I call it the tale of two polygraph tests. The Delorean case was classic. Different questions asked by the defense attorneys to Delorean, different result. Different questions asked by FBI, again different results.


MILLER: So the danger of what we call the tale of two polygraph tests could occur. but the point is that if -- the magic questions are, do you know where this woman is now?

COSSACK: Yeah, I was going to get to that. Let me ask you this. Suppose that you had Condit -- Congressman Condit, and you had the ability to put him on your polygraph machine, how would you go about questioning him, and what kinds of questions would you do? Would you do the thing where the map, where you tear up the map and start asking different parts of the map? And tell our viewers about that.

MILLER: OK. We call that the search and peak of tension type of test, and it's very useful in missing persons cases. We tend, because of the emotional relationship that's been established, pretty much by the statements we've heard, we don't want to spend too much time digging into this personal relationship. However, we've got some very basic non-threatening questions to the innocent person about do you know where this person is? Do you know the last person who has seen Chandra, and things like that.

But now in the search and peak of tension test, we just take a map. We draw it up into sections and then we just tell them to answer no to each question. And we take them through the map. And then he will we get the strongest response on...

COSSACK: And when you take them through the map, you say, for example, you take part of the map and you say hypothetically is Chandra Levy there?

MILLER: Mm-hmm.

COSSACK: Maybe, and that's going to be like the Northwest.

MILLER: That's correct.

COSSACK: OK, and different parts of the country.

MILLER: And then over time we would -- the test, the map would shrink down. And then we'd get to the small focal point. Now, this has worked well with serial murderers people like that.

COSSACK: Which we want to jump in here and say there's no suspicion at all Congressman Condit being that, or even suspect in this case.

MILLER: Absolutely. But this type of search technique used in polygraph is a powerful system, works very well. And it has been successful in certain cases. Now, there are civil liberty issues here, as far as the Congressman's rights.


MILLER: There is -- and I agree with the attorney that there's no proof that makes him any stronger a suspect than any number of other people the police have interviewed. The problem the Congressman has is he's got this nagging credibility issue about the changing of the story and then there's some debate about that. But my perception is, and my opinion is, that the story has changed. There was a reluctance to get into the details of the relationship.

COSSACK: Well, arguably, and we'll talk to you, Barry, about this. You know, one could argue that that was done because to protect his family relationship, and which you know, makes as much sense as any other kind -- in fact, makes more sense, I think, than any other, you know, explanation why he was hesitant.

MILLER: And that's why the polygraph -- my opinion, I would not provide a polygraph test to this subject on the basis of the family relationship or the relationship with Levy. I would go with do you know where this woman is now, and do you know any person that would know? I would stay in that area and then use the search and technique, if necessary, if we get indications.

COSSACK: It's hard for you to predict, Barry, and I don't want to put you on the spot, but in light of the fact there is this PR issue -- because he is a public figure and he is Congressman -- do you think there will come a time when he may wish to take a polygraph test?

POLLACK: I don't know, and it would surprise me, Roger. I don't think that taking a polygraph test is going to end this anymore than answering questions is going to end this. Unfortunately, there's a woman who's missing and until she's found, the questions are going to remain unanswered.

If he takes a polygraph test, everybody knows they're not reliable. Nobody's going to accept the results. They're going to continue to ask questions. I don't think it advances the ball at all. The people that are the trained investigators here are not calling for a polygraph test. It's been stated that it's sometimes helpful as an investigative tool. The people doing the investigation here don't seem to think it has any benefit as investigative tool.

COSSACK: And that's right. And we have to -- and with that, and again, reiterate the fact that he is -- the Washington, D.C. police have said and continue to say time and time again that is he not a suspect. So let's take a break. Let's come back, and we're going to speak with the mayor of Modesto, California, where Congressman Condit's constituents are. Let's find out how they are reacting to the latest news in the Chandra Levy case. Stay with us.


COSSACK: Congressman Gary Condit has served as an elected official to his community of Modesto, California on both the state, as well as the federal levels. The Democrat was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989. So joining us today to give us the reaction from Congressman Condit's hometown is the mayor of Modesto California, Mayor Carmen Sabatino.

Mayor, thank you for joining us. It is indeed an honor. Tell us what the reaction to Congressman Condit has been in Modesto? How are the people feeling about him?

CARMEN SABATINO, MAYOR, MODESTO, CALIFORNIA: Well, I think there's a feel of disappointment. Some of the confusion, I guess, is disappearing, but there are a lot of people who are still willing to support the Congressman. He's enjoyed tremendous bipartisan support in this area. As a matter of fact, I would think that a greater percentage of Republicans are coming to his support now than Democrats.

COSSACK: Mayor, is the feeling, is there a feeling in your town, Modesto, not that so much he should be a suspect in the disappearance of this young woman, but more confusion or whatever the feeling may be regarding his apparent lack of being forthcoming immediately in the case?

SABATINO: That I think, is the central problem. The notice at first that they were just friends, and now the apparent admission that it was more than just a friendship -- I think has rocked people become on their heels a little. And they're saying, "Wait a minute, what else is there that we should be hearing from the Congressman, and why aren't we hearing from him?"

COSSACK: You just anticipated my next question. Has Congressman made any plans to return to his home base and address the populous?

SABATINO: Not that I know of. But you know, Roger, the Congressman is -- this isn't unusual behavior for him at the beginning. It's unusual now because I think he's made himself a fugitive from the media, but during the course of his career, he really is not talked to Modesto Bee. He hasn't gone on talk radio shows. You don't see him on the steps of the Capitol that often. So he literally has not been in front of cameras or news conferences very much.

But now that he's maintained this silence, that behavior seems to be maybe not normal, that for legal reasons it may be wise for him not to speak now. But we all know sooner or later he has to speak. Apparently, he's going to pick the time and the place.

COSSACK: Mayor, I know in Modesto on the 4th of July, with pride the city of Modesto has a major 4th of July parade. And the Congressman and all of the elected officials usually ride in that parade. This time he didn't do it. What was the reaction to the people of Modesto when he failed to show up for the 4th of July?

SABATINO: Again, disappointment that he didn't come. However, you know, it was the biggest parade we have ever had in this city in terms of events and of audience. But other people were saying that perhaps the Congressman -- well, let me put it this way. I would have really appreciated had he come, but I'm not the one to give the Congressman that advice.

COSSACK: Mayor, last question. Is there any sentiment that you are able to understand or see in your town to perhaps call for a recall of Congressman Condit?

SABATINO: No, I've seen none of that. I don't think there's enough blood in the water yet for other politicians to come to the forefront and say they are going to run against the Congressman. I understand there will be some forthcoming in the next day or so, but it's too early to tell. Actually, Roger, in October the Congressman has a fundraiser at the fair grounds.

COSSACK: And that's when we'll really see.

SABATINO: It draws maybe -- I think yeah, because he draws 5,000 people to that fund raiser.

COSSACK: All right, Mayor, we've got to go. Thanks to all of our guests and thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. I'll see you then.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

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