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Lie Detectors: Separating Fact From Fiction

Aired July 9, 2001 - 20:30   ET



Turning up the heat on Congressman Gary Condit -- after admitting to an affair with a missing intern. Now her parents want a polygraph test.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes the threat of a test is as powerful as anything else that we do.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight's POINT: the lie detector. Plus our POINT panel on how the story's playing in Condit's home state of California.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it has rocked people back on their heels a little bit, and they're saying, wait, wait a minute.


ANNOUNCER: Also, talking to the public: your thoughts on the congressman and how he's handling the crisis.

THE POINT. Now from the CNN Center in Atlanta, Greta Van Susteren.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Do you work well under pressure? Like with all the national media following you and with everyone in the country talking about your sex life and with a former mistress missing and her family demanding you take a lie detector test? Well, welcome to Congressman Gary Condit's world.

Tonight's "Flashpoint": Lie Detectors.

Congress will be back in session tomorrow. The House will be taking up campaign finance reform.

Suppose any reporter on Capitol Hill wants to know what Representative Condit thinks about that? Late Friday, Condit admitted to police he had been involved in an intimate, romantic relationship with intern Chandra Levy. The story leaked -- big surprise. Condit's people spent the weekend doing damage control.

That effort continued today, and now, Chandra Levy's family is putting on some extra pressure. They want the congressman to take a lie detector test.


SUSAN LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S MOTHER: I have authorized Mr. Martin to go ahead and ask for a polygraph test. Mr. Condit has not been very truthful to me up until now, and I think that there are things that are unknown and the truth has to come out.



ABBE LOWELL, REP. CONDIT'S ATTORNEY: With respect to lie detectors, I know there's a great public appeal to lie detectors. But I know from my own practice that they leave a lot to be desired. If the police call me and tell me that at some point they think that no matter how suspect it might can be helpful, I will discuss it with them. But I will discuss it with them and not with you.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining me now from Washington is CNN national correspondent Bob Franken -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Greta, there have been a lot of developments today. CNN has learned that Anne Marie Smith, who is the flight attendant who claimed that she, too, had had a romantic relationship with Gary Condit and that he had asked her to lie about it under oath in a sworn affidavit, she is coming to Washington. Condit's office responded by saying that there was no effort to sign a false affidavit. In fact, there was a notation at the top that she could make any changes she wanted.

But nevertheless, she and her attorney are coming to Washington tomorrow, and on Wednesday will meet with the U.S. attorney.

Now, the lawyer for Anne Marie Smith, James Robinson, says this is being done at the request of the U.S. attorney.

Just one of the many developments that almost overshadowed the fact that a 24-year-old is still missing.


FRANKEN (voice-over): More than two months since she's been missing, the investigation into Chandra Levy's disappearance continues with little apparent progress toward finding the 24-year-old former Washington intern. Among the discrepancies the Levys want to explore, why did Condit tell Chandra's mother in a meeting last month that he last had contact with her daughter on April 24th, but told investigators he spoke with her by phone on April 29th, five days later, and a day or two before she was last accounted for? Sources with the congressman explain he thought the detectives wanted to know when he had last seen her, which would have been on April 24th. Condit's team also suggested an answer to another loose end: Why were police not pushing to search his Washington apartment? According to his lawyer, detectives conducted their first interview with the congressman at his apartment, at Condit's invitation, and he has subsequently offered them the opportunity to search, if they choose.

So far, at least, police have repeatedly said Condit is not a suspect and a search is not necessary at this time.


Now, one other matter, Condit's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, has continued his attacks on media coverage of this, is writing letters to the executives of the major network news organizations, asking them to withdraw what he calls the around-the-clock stakeouts, placing the cameras at Condit's homes in Washington and in California, claiming that it is a safety hazard to the congressman, his wife, his children, and his neighbors -- Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, OK, let's be fair. Let's turn the cameras around on the media. You've been to some of those stakeouts. How heavy is the media stakeout of either Abbe Lowell's office or the congressman's office?

FRANKEN: Well, Abbe Lowell's office sporadically will have cameras in front of it, normally, when we think there's something of news going on there, but it is a fact that there are cameras now constantly anyplace where the media believes that Condit is going to be. Oftentimes, they're not really round-the-clock, as Abbe Lowell stated in his letter. But they are there, and there have been complaints by the neighbors that they've been hazardous, complaints by the family, and certainly complaints from Condit and his lawyer now.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Thanks to CNN's Bob Franken in Washington.

Lie detectors work great in TV movies and detective novels, but do they really prove anything? Joining me from New York to put polygraphs on the hot seat, former New York Police detective Ralph Nieves.

Ralph, thanks for joining me this evening.


VAN SUSTEREN: OK, Ralph, if you were working with the Levy family, what questions would you wants to pose to the congressman during a lie detector session?

NIEVES: Well, I would certainly look to put the issue of any physical violence to the victim or to the alleged, the missing person to make sure that he was at least not participating in any physical violence toward her. Certainly, questions as to his responsibility for her missing would be too vague. I mean, you'd have to be very narrow in scope and specific to the issues. At least that one issue can be put to rest.

In addition...

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So give me an idea. I understand that the vagueness wouldn't be good, but I mean like specifically, what questions...

NIEVES: Did you -- did you participate in any physical violence toward Ms. Levy? Did you or any of your agents participate in any physical violence toward Ms. Levy? Did you participate in her abduction? Questions of that nature. Obviously, the question formulization would have to be done by the examiner at the time of the test.

In addition to that, you have some excellent examiners in Washington. I mean, the government -- the United States government is the largest user of lie detectors. They do close to a million examinations a year. And certainly if the congressman wished (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he could do that. But obviously, attorneys will advise him maybe contrary to that, because we all know, as you know, attorneys and clients, sometimes clients are not forthright in all their answers, and they have to protect his interests also.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ralph -- Ralph, what's the margin of error in a polygraph test?

NIEVES: Well, with the algorithms that have been designed and the computer systems -- the photograph you have is an analog instrument. The algorithm, we have about a 97 percent accuracy factor with that.

It's a great tool to exclude a person during an investigation. It's a wonderful investigator's tool.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it's not perfect, Ralph. I mean, where are its -- where are its problems?

NIEVES: Well, nothing -- nothing is perfect. I mean, obviously, it, once again, it's a tool. When it works, it works very effectively, but it just doesn't work all the time.

VAN SUSTEREN: But -- but then that raises a good question: When does it work and when doesn't it work?

NIEVES: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, I understand if the questions are vague it doesn't work. When else doesn't it work?

NIEVES: Well, it doesn't work depending upon the examiner that's administering the test. I mean, people always state that they -- they can best the test. You don't beat the test: You beat the examiner. And once again, the FBI examiners are probably the finest examiners in the world. And I mean, that -- those are areas that once a decision is made to conduct the examination, as far as him beating the test, if he's going to practice deception, he's a liar. If he's forthright -- and once again, if you had nothing to do with this issue, I certainly would do anything to possible to put that one issue to rest. And if a lie detector would answer that question, that's fine. There's no exposure.

VAN SUSTEREN: When, Ralph -- when, Ralph -- I mean, I have seen some lie detector tests where the results are called "inconclusive." What does that mean?

NIEVES: Inconclusive means that we can't determine whether the person is being truthful or deceptive. That happens on occasion. Like anything else, there's nothing that's a perfect answer.

It's just a wonderful tool. In situations where the investigation calls for it, it works very effectively.

And once again, the new systems that they have now and algorithms and the computerized systems that the federal government has developed themselves actually, because that's the ones we use now in the private sector, are extremely reliable. And it puts issues to rest. And certainly the issue of any physical violence toward Ms. Levy is of primary importance to the family. And that's an issue that can very easily be at least indicating that the congressman has no involvement in that area, and the efforts could be going into other areas and look at the investigation -- look at other parts of the investigation to see where they can put a solution to this matter.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ralph, someone who has obviously been somewhat deceptive is certainly the congressman in this instance -- at least apparently wanted to conceal his personal relationship with the intern. After all, he is married. Does that level sort of a guilty conscience, having tried to hide that type of matter, would that in any way inflict some sort of inability of an examiner to get truthful answers on the question you posed, violence or no violence?

NIEVES: Not at all, because any examiner who conducts this test will spend anywhere from three to four hours with the congressman, and all those issues would be resolved then, and the focus would be simply, and my suggestion would be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) did he participate in any physical violence or the abduction of Ms. Levy. That's the issue, and that's solely the issue.

So his affair -- his love affair with her, that should not impact upon the examination, because the question isn't about that. It's about whether he hurt that lady or had any -- any of his agents to anything to that young lady, which I think is of primary importance.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Assume that -- assume -- well, let's do a hypothetical. Someone agrees to be -- to submit to a polygraph examination. You walk into the room -- take me step-by-step through the procedure.

NIEVES: Well, there's a whole pretest interview. The fact pattern of the case has to be thoroughly reviewed by the examiners. They walk in, there's a whole...

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you hook them up?

NIEVES: Well, when you attach an individual -- the actual running of the test takes maybe 20 minutes. It's all the preliminary work that goes into -- that's entailed in the investigation: reviewing the facts of the case, what do the investigators have so far, is there any inconsistency in the statement, and just focusing on one particular issue. And that's the simple issue, did he hit, rob, shoot, stab Ms. Levy, or did he know anyone that participated in that? That's the issue, and that's the steps that you take.

To get into the polygraph test, it's too extensive for me at this time to explain to you every step of the process. But it will take a considerable amount of time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me ask you, interpreting -- is there any level of subjectivity in interpreting the results?

NIEVES: Well, the subjectivity that used to exist with the analog instrumentation has been minimized because of the computer algorithms that we use now. So a lot of that guesswork or the evaluation has been minimized.

You never give up your responsibility of reviewing the charts physically and scoring them, but the algorithms, which are the computer systems that were designed initially through NASA, the Space Administration -- technology from them -- eliminates a lot of that guesswork.

VAN SUSTEREN: In light of the fact they say eliminates all the guesswork, why do you think, Ralph, that they still are not uniformly accepted in court as evidence?

NIEVES: Well, that's not true. That's not true at all.

VAN SUSTEREN: Uniformly. They're not accepted in all courts.

NIEVES: Well, you get stipulations all the time for the testing process. The United States government uses it extensively. When we come into court on that level as a defendant and we use...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you say stipulation: That's when both sides agree.

NIEVES: Correct.

VAN SUSTEREN: Uniformly, you can't impose it upon -- in every court and have it admissible.

NIEVES: Well, we're imposing it upon, but we're using it as a tool where it's selectively decided to stipulate to, and the defense and the prosecutor and the judge agree. Look, we have a test, they both agree, the results are accepted.

On a federal level, obviously they're locked in. I mean, they do close to a million examinations a year. The research and development that went into these systems was extensive. The taxpayer dollars was phenomenal. If it works for the government, it should work for the defense.

VAN SUSTEREN: Except for I've got -- I've got to tell you one thing, Ralph: When you say it works for the government, that's oftentimes in terms of employment decisions. On something so important as whether or not we take away someone's liberty, we sometimes subject it to higher standards, and I think that probably is the reason why they've experienced...

NIEVES: Well, you....

VAN SUSTEREN: ... that's why they're not uniformly accepted.

NIEVES: Well, there are intelligence agencies that are put under that -- under that microscope every day. So that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Ralph, I'm going -- you and I could battle about this for a long time.

NIEVES: Oh, you've got that right.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm going to give you the last -- I'm going to give you the last word on that, though.


VAN SUSTEREN: Thanks to Ralph Nieves for joining us this evening.

NIEVES: You're very welcome.

VAN SUSTEREN: Next, the Chandra Levy case from inside and outside Washington's Beltway in just a minute. My POINT panel will be right back.


VAN SUSTEREN: Switch to just about any channel and the Gary Condit story is headline news. People usually like having their congressman in the headlines, but this is something different. So just how are Condit's playing after this week's development? Well, we've assembled a POINT panel from three West Coast newspapers.

In Washington are Mike Doyle, who is the D.C. correspondent for "The Modesto Bee," a paper in Condit's home district, and Marc Sandalow is "The San Francisco Chronicle's" Washington bureau chief, and in Fresno, California is Jim Boren, "The Fresno Bee's" editorial page editor.

Let me go first to you, Jim: The big political question about this polygraph. What do the constituents, what do the people feel about whether he does or doesn't take one as sort of at least provoked at least by the Levy family? They want one. JIM BOREN, "THE FRESNO BEE": I think the polygraph is just one more issue that Congressman Condit has to deal with, but frankly, he has a great deal, a reservoir of public opinion and positive public opinion, but he's drawing down on that. And I think that he needs to do something.

One of the first things he needs to do is get rid of the lawyers and the PR people, come out to his district and tell the people the full story.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jim, how do you have a reservoir of good public -- of constituents at this point, I mean, after at least admitting to a relationship with an intern? I think that many people in Washington, or at least outside Beltway, would have thought that people had learned that was not well-liked or well-received by the rest of the country.

BOREN: Well, it's probably not well-received in his district, but the fact is, is that he has been a strong congressman for years. And so he's coming -- he's coming with this -- I'm sorry. I'm losing your...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me go to Marc.


VAN SUSTEREN: Marc, do -- Marc, do you agree with Jim?

MARC SANDALOW, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Yeah, I mean, Condit has served in the Congress since 1989. This is a guy who since his first election gets two-thirds of the vote. He, a decade before that, was serving in the legislature, the legislature in California, and before that he was on the city council back there. So this is somebody who indeed is very, very popular back home. It would take enormous political scandal to think of unseating Gary Condit...

VAN SUSTEREN: Isn't this -- isn't this -- Marc, isn't this an enormous political scandal? You have a missing young woman in Washington, D.C. His name is all over it. He's married, two children. We've gone though this before in Washington. This does seem like an enormous political scandal, at least to me.

SANDALOW: No question, Greta. I guess my point is that, you know, barring some bombshell Gary Condit was safe. This is the bombshell. This is the ultimate Washington "Bonfire of the Vanities" disaster. And I think Gary Condit at this point is in deep, deep political trouble.

No one ever thought that Condit was going to be in any political danger at home unless he got redistricted in the next reapportionment out of his seat. At this point, I think Gary Condit's chances of making it through this term are maybe good if he decides to stay the course. His chances of returning to Washington in the future are in huge, huge trouble.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, "The Modesto Bee" serves his, at least serves the hometown of where the Levys are from. What's the political reservoir, to use a term Jim used, what's it like for the congressman there?

MIKE DOYLE, "THE MODESTO BEE": Well, even more so than in Fresno County, which is south of Modesto and it's only part of Congressman Condit's district. The congressman is from the Modesto area, and was -- his first job was on the Ceres City Council, a small town. He was about 22 or 23 years old. So it's the very centerpiece of his political organization, and he does have a very strong political organization.

So if anything that Jim has seen down in the Fresno area is more strongly felt even in Modesto.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marc, what about the issue your newspaper reported on Saturday? Tell us what that is and whether that -- with Anne Marie Smith -- and whether that's going to have an impact.

SANDALOW: Yeah, Greta, you know, Anne Marie Smith is the flight attendant who is based in San Francisco who alleges that Gary Condit not only had an affair with her for a year, but then his attorneys attempted to get her to sign an affidavit swearing that she indeed had no sordid affair, which she said she wouldn't do.

Well, Anne Marie Smith, sources have told several news agencies, including "The Chronicle," is on her way to Washington, D.C. to talk with federal investigators. The U.S. attorney's office is now looking into whether or not Gary Condit suborned perjury, which is a term that of course you remember from the whole impeachment, Monica matter.

At this point, Anne Marie Smith, who's a complete bit player to the -- to Chandra Levy's disappearance -- I mean, here's a flight attendant from San Francisco who has almost nothing to do with Chandra Levy's whereabouts, but suddenly, as sort of the way this story has spun in this cycle, is central to Gary Condit's political future.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jim, his lawyers, Condit's lawyers, say that there is nothing wrong with that affidavit, that he didn't -- the congressman didn't attempt to get her to sign a false affidavit or encourage her. Are the people standing behind the congressman on the Anne Marie Smith issue?

BOREN: Well, clearly the people understand that what he really was trying to do was get her to sign a false affidavit. I think that's true, and I think this political reservoir of goodwill that he's had is being drawn down by that and the recent revelations over the weekend.

He's in serious political trouble now, and he needs to do something. I think he needs to come back to the district, explain what happened, and then see what the public will do.

I think having Abbe Lowell and a PR firm run this operation out of Washington, D.C. is just the wrong way to do this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why is that wrong, Jim? Because I'll tell you, in Washington, D.C., the things that we're looking at, you know, the Anne Marie Smith thing is not -- may not be a political issue for the congressman but could be a serious legal issue for the congressman.

BOREN: Well, he may have legal problems because of that, and I'm talking from the political point of view. If he really wants to stay in Congress, then he needs to come back to the district, tell the full story, ask for forgiveness, and say: Look, I've been here for 30 years. I served you on the Ceres City Council, on the Board of Supervisors, California Assembly, and the United States Congress. I have been a good legislator for you, and I'm sorry for what happened, and I'd like you to re-elect me next year. I think short of that he's in serious trouble.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, is saying I'm sorry, would that ever be enough? And I guess that I'm sort of perplexed by that as even being close to being enough in light of the fact that the country has gone through this before.

DOYLE: Well, I think that there's a school of thought that there was a window of opportunity for the congressman to have, one, spoken truthfully to the Levys about his relationship, and two, spoken to the police in a timely manner that would have allowed, enabled them to conduct an investigation in a timely way.

Ten weeks past before he had his third and final interview with the police, and to our knowledge he has not spoken to the parents after one lawyer-arranged meeting. And the parents now are quite upset over what they believe is his continued lack of truthfulness.

And so I hope he does come out and speak on his own behalf. I will be curious to see whether that will be enough at this point late in the game.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, I'm curious, the police have come out and on several occasions said the congressman is not a suspect. Wasn't before he spoke last Friday night, wasn't during the time he spoke Friday night, and wasn't a suspect on Saturday. Do the people in Modesto believe that he is not a suspect?

DOYLE: Well, I think they do. The police have been very forthright in saying that all along. The question has tranmorgified from whether he was a suspect or is or will be in the future in the disappearance to his handling of this case, his truthfulness with the family and with his constituents. And that's -- that's a separate matter, and that's in fact why there is such a large media interest in this case: not his involvement in the disappearance, of which there's no sign that he had any involvement, but rather his handling overall of this sensitive matter and eventually possibly aspects of his private life.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marc, is it in the congressman's character to ditch the lawyers and PR and go home and talk to the people? Is that something that you would expect from him?

SANDALOW: You know, if there is a politician who might do that, it might come from a Harley Davidson-riding politician, which is Gary Condit, but we've seen no sign of that.

I mean, to follow up on what Mike said, I mean, I agree that there has always been that innuendo out there that maybe the congressman did have something to do with the disappearance. The police have denied it, no one has ever come across any evidence. But do I think that the media has been irresponsible.

It's not so much in the overkill, because of course we're known for overkill in the media. But what the media has always held out the possibility that we could be talking about something much worse than a congressman who had an affair, because we all know congressmen with affairs is not exactly front-page news -- but a congressman who might have actually had something do with the disappearance. And I think the media has done some disservice. It's been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to address that issue and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to separate what Mike just laid out.

Was he responsible for her disappearance? Was he untruthful about her affair -- the affair? And at this point we are beginning to get more and more understanding that the police at least at this point believe that yes, this is a congressman who had an affair, this is not a congressman who had anything to do with her disappearance.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's right, and I echo that. They have not said he had anything to do with her disappearance. It's still a missing person case also.

Thanks to Mike Doyle, Jim Boren and Marc Sandalow for joining me.

Next, what are they thinking in New York and Tennessee? We'll get a couple of points about the Chandra Levy case from my viewers after a quick break and our "MONEYLINE Update."


VAN SUSTEREN: Tonight's "Final Point" goes to you. Two of my viewers who have been watching the Chandra Levy story e-mailed these thoughts.

Elizabeth from New York says: "As a parent, I'm appalled by Representative Condit's refusal to publicly disclose the nature of his relationship with the missing intern, Chandra Levy. After all, the tarnishing of Representative Condit's political reputation may have less to do with his supposed sexual indiscretions and more to do with his inability to realize that courage is the ability to act regardless of personal consequences."

And Jose from Tennessee has a theory: "I believe Chandra is hiding. I imagine she remembers what happened in the Lewinsky affair and is afraid to go public. Is she afraid and just too afraid to appear knowing that her life would become a hellish circus of media? I hope I'm right."

Let me know what you think. Send an e-mail to That's one word, askgreta. I'm Greta Van Susteren at CNN Center in Atlanta. Up next, Larry King continues CNN's coverage of the search for Chandra Levy with an exclusive interview with Levy family attorney Billy Martin.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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