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Are the Police Doing a Good Job in the Search for Chandra Levy?

Aired July 17, 2001 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, as the search for Chandra Levy continues, how well are police doing their job? Could they be doing more? Or with more than 100 people missing in Washington, are they doing too much?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE: former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt and James Fotis, executive director of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America.

CARLSON: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Gary Condit put on his bravest face today. Protesters gathered outside the congressmen's Modesto offices, demanding his resignation. The press followed him everywhere. When Condit went to Capitol Hill this morning for a routine hearing on the farm bill, the media came, too. As one colleague pointed out while Condit looked on.


REP. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Mr. Chairman, just once again, I'd like to compliment you and Mr. Stenholm for crafting a heck of a farm bill. When we get this kind of national media attention for a farm bill, I think it really says something. I can't imagine why else they are here.


CARLSON: Meanwhile, Washington police continued their search for Chandra Levy, now missing for 78 days. Officers and police cadets scoured local parks. Apart from a pair of men's shoes and a bloodless knife, they found nothing. And that, some law enforcement experts say, is all they're likely to find.

Did the police wait too long before searching for Chandra Levy? Did they give Gary Condit special treatment early in the investigation? Is it time to blame the cops -- Bill?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Mr. Van Zandt, 11 weeks, the highest missing person profile case I think maybe in the history of humankind, still no lead, no suspect, no clue. Is this starting to look to you like another JonBenet Ramsey case?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Well, one of the problems is, we have no crime. Law enforcement still has to identify a crime, that's one of reasons we don't have a, quote unquote, "suspect" at this point.

CARLSON: Mr. Fotis, the D.C. police know that Gary Condit didn't do this. There is no evidence that he murdered Chandra Levy or did anything to her, apart from having an affair with her. Isn't it true that they are using the suspicion that he had a hand in her disappearance as a cover for their own incompetence?

JAMES FOTIS, LAW ENFORCEMENT ALLIANCE: I don't think the D.C. police have handled this with incompetence. I actually think that Chief Ramsey and his assistant, Gainer, have done a very good job. Their hands are tied in the beginning, obviously, going -- if they went after Gary Condit. He is a congressman, there are laws that protect him above and beyond a normal citizen.

So, I think they are doing a good job. And again, no crime has been committed. There was no reason to go after him.

PRESS: No crime committed, Mr. Van Zandt, but there is a missing person, a missing woman. For the first nine weeks, it's like you never heard or saw anything from the D.C. police department, and lately, the last couple of weeks, it's been a media event a day. I mean, they called the cameras to follow the dogs to the buildings, they called the cameras to follow the police cadets through the park yesterday and again today.

Today, the executive assistant I think chief of police Mr. Gainer -- to Gainer's held a news conference to announce what they are going to give to the media tomorrow. This is how Marc Fisher put it in the "Washington Post" lately. He said: "The D.C. police, apparently stymied, are staging the full media show with nearly daily events for our excitement. Police officers are paraded around town, riding horse through Rock Creek, following snapping dogs into abandoned houses, walking through random stretches of park land."

Now, is something really going on, or is this just sort of to give the impression that they're doing something?

VAN ZANDT: This is what you call a multiple-track investigation. And this particular case, I absolutely guarantee you, behind the scenes, behind the media scene anyway, you've got FBI agents supporting the D.C. police, you've got the D.C. police, and they're doing multiple investigations, they are looking at a number of people who are potentially -- might be involved in a situation like this, but they are not going to have a race with the media, like the FBI wound up doing during the Atlanta bombing with Richard Jewell.

You can't put your investigation out in front of the public. There are some things you have to hold back.

PRESS: So, you think they're doing a pretty good job?

VAN ZANDT: I think they are doing the best job they can at this situation right now. And also, I think the D.C. police are doing a little CYA, which is they want to be able to say if Chandra Levy is found chained to a tree in Rock Creek Park, they don't want someone to say, had you only gone one more mile, you would have found her.

PRESS: Real quick follow-up. Gary Condit has talked to them three times, OK? The first time he talked to them, front page of the "Washington Post" that Chandra Levy spent the night at his apartment. Third time he talked to them, front page of the "Washington Post" that he had an affair with her, romantic -- which he denied before that. I mean, why should he trust talking to these cops if they are leaking all over the place? Isn't that unprofessional, to say the least?

VAN ZANDT: It's unprofessional for the information to be leaked, and right now if the congressman is guilty of anything, Bill, it's lack of candor, and had he been right upfront with the police and the FBI from day one, we wouldn't have seen all these investigative resources chasing all over trying to figure out what his relationship was with her, and we could have dedicated those resources someplace else.

CARLSON: Mr. Fotis, there has been a lot of spin in this. Everybody has his own PR agent, it seems like, but we have collected the whopper of the week. This is Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer on Sunday, describing how his department, the D.C. police department, approached Gary Condit. The whopper of the week, here it is.


TERRANCE GAINER, ASSISTANT POLICE CHIEF, WASHINGTON, D.C. POLICE DEPARTMENT: Everybody gets the same treatment. We're no -- have no more authority to haul the congressman in than anybody that's average Joe suspect in. If you're going to arrest someone and make a custodial interrogation, you either have to have a warrant or probable cause, and we haven't had those things.


CARLSON: First of all, nobody is talking about an arrest here. We are just talking about vigorous questioning, and if Gary Condit had been the average person, he would still be there downtown, a light shining in his face, and a cop saying, "look, pal, answer the question." That's not what happened, because he is a member of Congress.

FOTIS: You see, I think on the other side, if Gary Condit had been the average person, he probably wouldn't have even been questioned at all, because every day somebody disappears. Every day when I was a police officer someone would come in and file a missing person report for their husband, for their spouse, for their children. You cannot say that he would have been a suspect, or been involved, or questioned at all.

This is a very high-profile case. That's the only reason that Condit right now is in the middle of it, and it's growing, obviously, but I think in the end, you know, we are going to find out, hopefully, that Chandra Levy isn't dead, that there was no foul play. But each day that passes kind of makes it a little less tempting, but 882,000 people disappeared last year. Now we are down -- we have in the end, they come back home, that's the end of the case. That's how police works across the country, 98,000 about are still missing.

CARLSON: So, OK, now that we are -- now that the D.C. police are questioning Gary Condit and demanding he do one thing after another, essentially to clear his own name here, the final interview, when -- the third interview, in which he admitted he had an affair apparently with Chandra Levy, they questioned him for an hour and 15 minutes.

That strikes me as a very short period of time. If you are going to question the guy and then leak it to the "Washington Post," why don't do a real interview? An hour and 15 minutes, that's not long enough to really get to the bottom of it, is it?

FOTIS: Well, they have questioned him two or three times before. I guess that they -- and I'm not a profiler, so I don't know what the questions were that they were asking him, but I think that it was very simple. They went in there, they asked, they went through his apartment. He let them go through his apartment. They found nothing in his apartment. He took the lie detector test, which may have been a farce, we may want him to take another one, but again that's not even admissible in court.

PRESS: Mr. Van Zandt, now your job at the FBI -- you were a profiler, so I mean, you kind of looked at evidence about people to sort of say, are these for real or not, should we be looking into them or not. Kind of -- that's it?

VAN ZANDT: We would do that kind of thing as well as suggest interview techniques to use with certain people, too.

PRESS: All right. Here's your target: Congressman Gary Condit. We have seen his behavior for the last nine weeks. He certainly wasn't forthcoming in the beginning in his conversations with police, he gave them -- it took three interviews before they kind of got everything out of him that they wanted to. He has made no public comments, and he -- as we saw earlier in the show, tries pretending now on Capitol Hill that it's business as usual. You look at that profile, does this man looks like a suspect to you? Do you think he is? Do you think he should be?

VAN ZANDT: What you wind up is when a person's statements and actions are suspect, that person becomes suspect. The reason you don't call him a suspect is because if you do, you have to start Mirandazing him, advise him of his rights. He lawyers up and he says, hey, the police are looking at me as a suspect, I have nothing to say whatsoever.

And that third interview that we just talked about -- an hour and 15 minutes -- I mean, I would have wanted to spend six to eight hours with him. I would have taken his life apart, her life apart, and then put them back together again to see where they meshed.

PRESS: So, are you saying you think his actions are suspect?

VAN ZANDT: In lack of a better suspect right now and because of his lack of candor and certain statements, the challenge is to rule him in investigatively or rule him out. He hasn't helped authorities to this point rule him out.

PRESS: Now, today was a banner day for the nation's media, because Gary Condit surfaced for the first time and spoke publicly for the first time in 11 weeks. He showed up, as Tucker said earlier, at this meeting of the Agricultural Committee this morning. He is the second-ranking Democrat on the committee. He not only sat there and listened to the testimony, he even asked a question. Here is Gary Condit's voice for the first time on this show.


REP. GARY CONDIT (D), CALIFORNIA: I understand that all of you are recommending an increase in the MAP program, the funding of the MAP program. I would like for each of you tell me, if you were granted an increase in MAP, what exactly would you do with the money?


PRESS: I'm not going to ask you to explain what a MAP program is, but you looked at him -- may not be a fair question -- but that's all we've seen of him. You looked at him, you heard him speak. Does he look like somebody who is guilty?

VAN ZANDT: You know, if I could just look at a person and tell whether they are guilty or not, you and I would go into business and make a lot more money than we do right now. So, you don't look at a person, but you look at the person's background.

In this particular case, you want to find out who -- in an investigation like this, it's like a bullseye target, where the victim or the missing person is the black bullseye right in the middle. And the person closest to her who had an emotional relationship with her, that's the next ring out.

Once you find out that person had nothing to do with it, then you go out further and further and further. The D.C. police and the FBI are kind of hung up because that first ring is the congressman; we can't get past him, we are out looking in the parks, but we still have to keep coming back to that ring until we can rule him out, and they can't do it, at this point.

CARLSON: Mr. Fotis, let's just recap here with what we have. We have a city with one of the highest murder rates in the nation, we have a police department widely discredited over the past ten years, which has one of the lowest closure rates for murders. Famously incompetent police department. All of a sudden, into this mix falls Gary Condit, the perfect scapegoat for this police department.

You appear to be saying that the police department is not using Gary Condit as a diversion of its own incompetence. If not, why in the world what do they keep harping Gary Condit? What specifically does the police department want from Gary Condit now?

FOTIS: Police are governed by pressure, public pressure. We saw it in the JonBenet Ramsey case. So what we are seeing is, police looking at Gary Condit because they are being pushed by the media, they are being pushed in that direction. They're looking at him.

And I'm not saying that he is or is not someone who should be a suspect in this case. What I'm saying is, we cannot try him before we have any evidence, and so far, we do not have a crime.

CARLSON: But we are not trying him. The D.C. Police Department by implication, day after day, you see it -- the police chief gets up there and mocks Gary Condit with these snide comments implying he's trying to maneuver himself out from under suspicion. What is Gary Condit supposed to do?

FOTIS: I think the only thing that Gary Condit is guilty of is indiscretion, and that's something that I guess many people in Congress could be proven guilty of.


I think it's going to take another few weeks. I believe that the help of the FBI and more profiles like Mr. Van Zandt are going to help us figure out exactly what happened. This girl could have walked out of her apartment, went to an ATM and who knows? Somebody could have grabbed her, taken her somewhere, dumped her somewhere, that's the end of it. Someday we'll find her.

I had a case in Lynbrook. We didn't find the body for a year. It was under leaves in an old yard that nobody went to. So it's very, very difficult to find bodies and once you find them, the bodies talk. We have no body to talk to right now.

PRESS: Gentlemen, we will take a break there. When we come back, here is another question about this case: who is driving this investigation anyway? The D.C. Police Department or Chandra Levy's parents? We will be right back.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Of all the missing person cases in Washington, D.C., only one of them has a family that's hired their own high-powered lawyer and public relations firm. To what extent are they driving the police investigation in this case? And should they be? Our debate on the Chandra Levy investigation continues with Jim Fotis of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. And Clint Van Zandt, former special agent of the FBI -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Mr. Van Zandt, I don't think anyone would deny that the Levys in addition to the press and other factors are helping to drive this investigation. Let's take a brief look at Mrs. Levy, whose credibility I think is important -- you want to give a grieving parent a pass.

On the other hand, when this all began two and a half months ago, Mrs. Levy went on television, and said, look, I have no idea if my daughter Chandra had a boyfriend in Washington. Now the story is, yes, she was dating Gary Condit and the family knew it all along. Now, if Gary Condit lied about the affair, so apparently did Mrs. Levy.

So why are the police allowing themselves to be manipulated and pushed around by a person who's proven to be a non-truth teller.

VAN ZANDT: Now, the Levy family have suggested authorities asked them not to go public with the information concerning their daughter's relationship with the congressman. From an investigative standpoint, that's valid because you don't want to turn -- excuse me -- the media hounds loose right away.

You want law enforcement to have a chance to go out and do the investigation and not wind up in a foot race. So, were I involved as an integral part of that investigation, I would say, we have that information, we're going to run with it, but please, we don't want competition at this second with the newspapers and television.

CARLSON: Right. They're the problem, the media-hounds. But they're also the public relations hounds. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) retained by the Levy family, helping to disseminate information drip by drip by drip into the newspaper, to which the police respond. So basically you have a public relations agency helping to direct a police investigation. Do you see a problem with that?

VAN ZANDT: Well, what I see a problem, is, as far the congressman, he picked the wrong PR agency to help him.


CARLSON: Cynical, cynical.

VAN ZANDT: Obviously, the Levys have got the right investigation because what the media likes is the drip, drip, drip, every day. This case, this matter, this news situation, doesn't have legs; it's on stilts, and it's been standing tall on stilts for 78 days.


CARLSON: Shouldn't the police say we are operating in a vacuum? We are trying to get to the truth regardless?

VAN ZANDT: I tell you what, when the police every day pick up that newspaper and see whether they are doing good or doing bad, they are going to do an investigation. But, every day in the United States, 2500 people go missing. 2,500 a day.

And I guarantee you, just like we said to start with, there is not one other case receiving this level of interest, because it is not being driven by the parents, by PR firms and by the media.

PRESS: Let's talk about some of the other cases here in this city. Jim Fotis. There are like 583, I read, missing people reported last year. Some of those could be kids missing from the mall, but there are 40 active, open cases today of missing persons being investigated in Washington of which we only know the name of one.

But when you look at those others, two of them have very -- two of the cases have very striking parallels to the disappearance of Chandra Levy. Last night, "America's Most Wanted" did a special report on the Levy investigation; John Walsh, the host, was on the Wolf Blitzer show last evening, and here's what he had to say about the case; please listen:


JOHN WALSH, HOST, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED: We've had two girls murdered here. One in 1998, Christine Merzian, and one in 1999, Joyce Chiang, who worked for the IRS. Both were interns, both lived within about a mile and half of Chandra Levy, both were seen leaving their houses. My gut feeling is that there may be a serial killer in the Washington, D.C., area.


PRESS: Serial killer; is that farfetched?

FOTIS: I don't anything is far-fetched, but the fact is, we have nothing that points to a serial killer at this point. We have, again, no case here that suggests that she was murdered at this point. And John, as much as I like him, he's got a show and he can sensationalize a little bit on these things, and I think that may be what he is doing.

PRESS: Whoa! Wait a minute! You have three woman, all three are interns, all three happen to be from California. All three are hanging out in the Dupont Circle area, and all three of them end up missing! No connection?

FOTIS: Again, what has been done on the other two cases, do we have anything that ties them together? Do we have the same -- were they going out with the same people? Did they hang out in the same places? I don't have that; maybe you have it. But I can't say that there's a serial killer out there.

PRESS: Here's the problem: The police don't have it. It's been reported that since 1995 they have kept no central records of all the missing cases here in the District of California -- District of Columbia, I'm sorry. So the police don't even -- if they went to their computer, they went to their records to say, "Are there any connections between these cases?" they can't even determine it. So how could we possibly have nay confidence in them to conduct this investigation?

FOTIS: If there is someone that is beyond the age of consent, whether 18 or 21, depending on the state, somebody comes in, reports them missing, a report is filled out, 24 hours later APB goes out, that's about it. There is no investigation.

This case has gotten blown out of proportion because of the fact that Gary Condit was involved. And I think that we have to take a step back and start rethinking all of these three murders and see what's actually happening here in D.C. We don't have that. Now we have no facts.

CARLSON: So, Clint Van Zandt, did Gary Condit do it?

VAN ZANDT: I don't think -- No. 1, did he do what? I guess I should ask you.

CARLSON: Did he have anything -- you're in the business of making educated guesses. Do you think it's likely, in your opinion, that he had something to do with her disappearance?

VAN ZANDT: I think it's likely that there is more information he may be able to offer us concerning her activities, her whereabouts, the extent of their relationship, the conversations they had the last three or four days. There's a lot of things about the relationship I'd like to know.

I've heard one report where he indicates the last time he saw her, whatever it was -- the 28th, 29th of the month -- he doesn't recall if he had sex with her or not. That's -- that's -- that is either...

CARLSON: Well, then, wait a second here.

VAN ZANDT: That is either a blatant lie or the man is so callous...

CARLSON: Well, that's -- then you raise a very interesting question. If he's not trying to conceal criminal conduct -- we know he had an affair and we know his political career is over. So if he's not trying to conceal criminal conduct, why would he be withholding information from the police?

VAN ZANDT: I think because the congressman still thinks he can stay a congressman, he still thinks he can run for office. And I think there is a Clintonian type of aspect here that says I can weather -- weather this just like Brother Bill did and I can rise above this, if I had nothing to do with it. All I have to do is keep my personal life out of it, and I will rise again, like the phoenix.

PRESS: Jim Fotis, I know you're not involved in the investigation, but you are a law enforcement official and you have been all your career and everybody has an opinion about this case. The police are investigating four possible theories: Either it's a case of suicide; it's a case of this woman just walked away and she's hiding somewhere deliberately; foul play; or that she's lost somewhere and has lost her memory, amnesia, and doesn't know who she is or where she is.

From what you've read, what you know, what do you think is the most likely?

FOTIS: My opinion is that there was some type of foul play, but again, let's get to the bottom of it and let's start looking at the real facts. Let's not play games, you know, stomping around the woods. Let's not look good for the press. Let's get down to really finding out what happened if we're going to do that.

PRESS: And you were saying earlier you think that one place they ought to be looking is the connections between some of these other missing women.

FOTIS: Other missing women, other people that they've been out with. You know, all of those connections are very, very important cases of this type. Once we have established that -- again, an adult in this country can leave home any time.

PRESS: The very latest news we heard tonight that Chandra Levy, the last day we know of any trace of her, she was looking on her Web site on the computer. In addition to looking for maps of Rock Creek Park, she was looking at sites for the committees in Congress that Gary Condit served on, like the Agriculture Committee. Does that tell you anything?

FOTIS: It tells me that possibly she was either reminiscing, trying to see what was going on. From what I heard, she was on her way home. What would put me at most -- at most concern is the way her apartment was left. Ready, packed, everything was gone, left, and then never came back. That would be the most important part to me as far as thinking that foul play took place.

CARLSON: We will be back. Jim Fotis, Clint Van Zandt, thank you both very much. Bill Press and I will be back in a moment to continue our investigation of the investigation in our closing comments. We'll be right back.


PRESS: Tucker, there's a good reason I don't have confidence -- this is not an attack on the D.C. police -- in any law enforcement agency when it comes to missing people. About two years ago, I got a call from the FBI. An FBI agent needed to interview me. He said he'd been looking for me for a year and couldn't find me. I'm on national television every night. I rest my case!

CARLSON: Well, Bill, I have to say the one thing I've learned from all of this is Clint Van Zandt had a great line, which is this is battle of the PR agents. Next time you're accused of a serious felony, hire Porter & Novelli. They are way better than Gary Condit's PR people.

PRESS: I don't think you have to give them any more publicity or any more reason to save the tape of this show and play it over and over again for their clients. But I'm afraid...

CARLSON: Well, but it is appalling.

PRESS: I know. It is appalling.

CARLSON: The police department is being boxed around by a public relations organization.

PRESS: Yeah, it is. You're right. And they should not let that happen. It's a battle of the PR firms.

CARLSON: We're agreeing.

PRESS: All right!

CARLSON: I'm almost speechless.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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