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CNN CROSSFIRE

Should Gary Condit Resign?

Aired August 14, 2001 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE LYNCH, CONDIT CHIEF OF STAFF: He, early on, long before this issue, he had decided to seek re-election, and those plans have not changed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, after three local newspapers call for him to step down, it looks like Gary Condit has re-election, not resignation, on his mind. Should he run again? Can he be re-elected? Or should he resign?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, former federal prosecutor Barbara Olson, and Julian Epstein, former Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Would you vote for Congressman Gary Condit? After all that's happened, residents of Modesto, California may still get that chance despite the fact that most political experts, including a couple of his fellow Democrats in Congress have written him off, and despite editorials over the weekend from his hometown papers, "The Fresno Bee" and "The Modesto Bee," calling on him to resign.

Condit appears determined to seek reelection. According to "The New York Post," he's even planning a fund-raiser for October -- barbecue, baked beans and country music -- yippee! But, after his involvement with still-missing intern Chandra Levy, is Central California still Condit Country?

Can Condit get reelected and should he -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Julian Epstein, you have spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. You know what goes on there. Can't we just agree that if you want to see Gary Condit you better see him in this Congress, because he sure is not going to be in the next Congress?

JULIAN EPSTEIN (D), FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It is too early to tell. I think his constituents, like rest of us, should do what all of us have been asking him to do which is to wait what he has to say. He is going to do it soon and we should make our judgments at that point. There is more that we don't know than we know.

PRESS: Barbara Olson, I have two words for you: Bill Clinton. Isn't the biggest mistake he can make in this town to follow the pack and believe people like Novak and write people off prematurely?

BARBARA OLSON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: And that has to do with Bill Clinton?

PRESS: People wrote him off. He's back!

OLSON: You think Gary Condit is Bill Clinton? It is true, I agree with you, he is following the Bill Clinton pattern of, just stick it out, staff, no matter how many lies you heard just smile. We saw that from the interview last night that Wolf had with Mr. Lynch. But he isn't Bill Clinton. You know what, he represents a district that is not happy. They are fed up. The papers' editorials show it. And I think Gary Condit, after three months to complain is almost laughable if it wasn't so sad.

NOVAK: For the record to defend myself, I never wrote Bill Clinton off, that is on the record.

EPSTEIN: I don't think Barbara did either.

NOVAK: That is on the record.

OLSON: Not anymore.

NOVAK: The editor of "The Modesto Bee" was on "CNN LIVE THIS MORNING," and let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK VASCHE, EDITOR, "MODESTO BEE": We have again, over a period of now almost four months, repeatedly asked him to address the people who have elected him and put their trust in him. We see no reason that he couldn't have spoken to the people here in this part of California.

He has chosen not to do that. And that is just unacceptable to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Julian Epstein, didn't -- forgetting all the legalities -- we are talking politics, didn't Gary Condit make a classic mistake that he left the -- one of the most important newspapers in the district, the most important newspaper that had endorsed him election after election and he just left them in the cold. Can you me any dumber than that, or did he really have something to hide so badly that he couldn't talk to them?

EPSTEIN: First of all, it is not true that he didn't speak them. He did speak to them. he gave them an early off the record interview during May 16. I am not defending it, I am just setting the record straight on that. I think that he should have addressed the newspaper earlier. I think that he should have addressed the public earlier.

What I was troubled by in a statement when he was responding to "The Modesto Bee" was he seemed to attack "The Modesto Bee" in the media for their attacks on him. I think there is a legitimate question as to whether the media is being fair given the fact that the police have said that he is not only not a suspect, he is not even a central figure.

On the other hand I would like to see Mr. Condit respond in a way that deals with things other than his political career. He still hasn't expressed the fact that he is remorseful, or sorry about the disappearance of Chandra Levy. That is what I think was lacking in his statement. That is what I think we will see later in the month when he does address public when he sets some of these other questions straight.

NOVAK: Just the second half of my question: Gary Condit is not a stupid politician. He used to have a reputation as a very astute politician, a guy who ran very well in a fairly conservative district.

EPSTEIN: Liked by Democrats and Republicans.

NOVAK: Liked by Republicans and Democrats. The fact that he doesn't talk to a paper that has supported him, doesn't that raise suspicions that he had something to hide and he was -- he was saying, boy oh, boy, I just can't risk talking to them, or I might let something slip?

EPSTEIN: Yes, and I think that has been a problem for him. And I think that he will rectify that problem. As you know though, Bob, having seen lots of these scandals through your course of years in Washington, D.C., is that you get caught in twilight zone between the political and the legal.

The lawyers always tell you that you have nothing to gain by going out and feeding the beast, talking to newspapers, to the gray lady, that it can only get you into trouble. On the other hand, I think politically what it does is, it does raise the question as to why aren't you coming forward if you don't have anything to hide. I think that the political side of the equation has overtaken the legal side of the equation and that is why in fact he is going to come out and speak to the local newspapers and speak on television very soon, within a matter of weeks.

PRESS: Barbara Olson...

NOVAK: Weeks?

EPSTEIN: Yes.

PRESS: Barbara Olson...

OLSON: Before four months.

PRESS: You know the easiest thing for a newspaper to do is to attack a politician because nobody is going to stand up to defend them. So, big deal, "The Modesto Bee" and "The Fresno Bee" come out and ask Gary Condit to resign.

I just want to read you the first sentence of "The Modesto Bee." I think it puts out there exactly what their problem is. He says, we have attempted to give Condit the benefit of the doubt while urging him to speak publicly in detail about his involvement. He has refused to do that. So what it is their nose is out of joint because he hasn't bowed to the media God. He has talked to the cops, he has talked to the FBI, but he hasn't talked to the reporters. That is what it is all about, isn't it?

OLSON: This is a member of Congress who is supposed to represent his constituents including Chandra Levy and Mr. And Mrs. Levy. And "The Modesto Bee" has given him the benefit of the doubt. They condoned this man, they supported him in his seven elections. For seven terms he had their support, their endorsement.

This is not a partisan paper. This is a paper who said our readers are feeling how we are feeling. This is what an editorial does. They express the views of the people. And the people are saying forget the affair. We now know the tawdry details. But for gosh sake, why haven't you said the name Chandra Levy? Why aren't you are out there helping? Why are you doing a fund-raiser when you should be raising money to help find this woman?

No. Gary Condit wants to get reelected so let's spend money while he dishes up barbecue. Let's not raise money for a constituent that he had an affair with. There is no sense of remorse coming out of Gary Condit. And I think the paper spoke for his constituents.

PRESS: First of all, I want to go on record as saying the day that we believe that newspaper editorial writers speak for the people of this country, this country is in deep doodoo. They do not, in my judgment -- I don't think you could ever prove that -- but the point is, I think, that this is a case of a missing woman.

The papers is not talking about that, they are talking about Gary Condit's political future. Mike Lynch, his chief of staff -- we just saw a clip at top of show, this is with Wolf Blitzer last night, and I think he made the point of why these papers are off base. Let's listen to Mike Lynch -- just a second.

OLSON: He made lot of points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS")

LYNCH: This is about the disappearance of Chandra levy. This is all it should be about. And for "The Modesto Bee" or "The Fresno Bee," no matter they, you know, try to suggest it is one or the other, for anyone to suggest this is about anything other than Chandra Levy's disappearance, you know, they are just wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Could you just tell me, how does calling for Gary Condit to resign, whether you agree or disagree, help in any way to find Chandra Levy?

OLSON: Well, I think there are two issues here. There is finding Chandra Levy, and can you tell me something, how come Gary Condit's chief of staff doesn't know how to pronounce her last name? How in the world can the man go on TV...

PRESS: May I suggest that maybe that is how they pronounce it in Modesto, you don't know, but how about answering my question?

OLSON: OK, you answer is, that there are two issues. One is finding Chandra Levy. And the other is, the paper is looking at a man, should he resign because he has violated public trust.

PRESS: But that was not my question. The question is, how does this help find Chandra Levy?

OLSON: Say he violated the public trust is not about finding Chandra Levy. It is about whether Gary Condit should resign because he...

(CROSSTALK)

EPSTEIN: I think that had "The Modesto Bee" made its decision about call for resignation based on his failures initially during this investigation when he failed to come clean about the nature of the relationship, one could argue that that makes sense.

I find it a little bit troubling for "The Modesto Bee" to make its position based on the fact that Mr. Condit hasn't given them an interview during the course of a criminal investigation. Because as Barbara knows, during the course of a criminal investigation it is more often the rule than not, that the police prefer witnesses, subjects of investigation, not to be out conducting interviews.

So, I think that while he has crossed that rubicon, I find that a curious basis on which to make the decision notwithstanding the fact that I'm troubled by the way he dealt with this initially as well.

OLSON: That is doublespeak.

EPSTEIN: Why is that doublespeak?

OLSON: Either he is a target or he is not. And he doesn't mind sending out his staff who have been interviewed by the prosecutors. He doesn't mind Mr. Lynch going out there and making statements, which could cause a grand jury to be convened if they're inconsistent. Gary Condit does a statement on paper. He has a PR person. This is not a man who's not speaking to the press. He just doesn't want to do it himself.

EPSTEIN: See, I think that -- I think that...

NOVAK: Let me ask you a question. By the way, I am really shocked, Barbara, I have to say, that you don't understand the Modesto pronunciation of "Lee-vy" is Levy. I mean, that's -- that's something... OLSON: How in the world can you mispronounce?

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: ... you should have researched. Of course, Bill understands that.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: Check it out, Bob. Check it out. How many times have you been to Modesto (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

NOVAK: Julian, a lot of us had never heard of Mike Lynch. He had never raised his head in Washington before. Now we know. But everybody here was very excited to have the chief of staff of Gary Condit actually appearing in the flesh last night. It was so exciting, and so I have to show you another sound bite of his. And I want you, Julian, search for the secret word, and I think you'll find it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNCH: I suspect it will be sooner rather than later. But let me make very clear: This is not a change in Congressman Condit's position or his strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: The secret word?

OLSON: Strategy.

NOVAK: Strategy.

OLSON: Strategy

NOVAK: What is -- what -- here is an intern, a woman he had an affair with, who is missing, maybe dead, and he's got a strategy. What is the strategy for?

EPSTEIN: Well, I think that what his obligation is right now is not the obligation to the news media, although I do think he is going to have to explain what happened given that he had conflicting statements from his chief of staff early on. His obligation is to the police. And the police again have said that he has been a cooperative witness. He has subjected himself to the apartment search, so on and so forth.

NOVAK: You're...

EPSTEIN: I think the strategy...

NOVAK: You're dribbling. Answer my question.

EPSTEIN: No, I think the strategy...

OLSON: He's got the strategy.

EPSTEIN: The strategy, I think, is probably because when you have a politician, as Gary Condit is, under -- under relentless attack from the news media -- and I think there is a question, even though Gary Condit -- I think two things can exist at the same time. I think it's possible that he acted irresponsibly, but at the same time, the media is being unfair to him by implying, focusing not just on his irresponsible conduct initially. But I think a lot of people are beginning to imply that he is in fact responsible for the disappearance of Chandra Levy when in fact the police have said something quite to the contrary.

And when you look at the polls that say now, because of the media attention, that 66 percent of the public now believes that he's somewhat involved...

OLSON: But Julian...

NOVAK: I don't want -- I don't want...

EPSTEIN: I think the strategy, to answer your question, the strategy...

NOVAK: OK. Thank you. Finally.

EPSTEIN: The strategy is a public relations strategy, because he's taken a bath from a public relations point of view, and there are many that think, Bob -- I don't know if you're one of them -- that even though he's acted irresponsibly, that the media has started to treat him unfairly.

OLSON: The police have not said he's been perfectly cooperative. Can I say what Chief Ramsey said? We didn't get details for weeks. It may have hurt our investigation. We don't know.

So it's not quite fair to say that he fully cooperated. I know that's what Marina Ein, his PR, talking points are. But it's not true...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: We're going to have to -- we've got to take a break. And when we come back, we'll find out what the American people think of Gary Condit's role or non-role in the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Gary Condit, the most notorious nonverbal member of Congress, may speak out soon. But it appears he won't be resigning or announcing that he won't run for re-election. Should he?

Julian Epstein, formerly Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, predicts Condit will run again. Former federal prosecutor Barbara Olson, a Republican, clearly doesn't want Gary Condit as her congressman.

Do you, Bill?

PRESS: Thank you, Bob. Barbara Olson...

(LAUGHTER)

I want to get back to where we started, talking about the re- election, because if you ask most people on the Hill, staff or members, they're going to say, he's dead, he's dead. I'd like to -- I know my rule is when everybody in Washington says something, it's usually wrong. But I'd like you to listen to someone who's a little bit closer to the ground, one of the best political strategists in California, a man named Dan Schnur.

Listen up please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN SCHNUR, GOP POLITICAL CONSULTANT: These are people who've supported him over the years, and I think if he were to come forward, offer a plausible explanation and an extraordinary apology, because they've been so loyal to him and he to they over the years, if he comes forward, he has a chance to come back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: That a Republican political strategist in California, by the way. But isn't he right? I mean, if Gary comes out, as Julian suggests he should -- and I think he should, too -- offers an explanation, apologizes to his constituents, talks about the job that he's done, he could win re-election.

OLSON: So you think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he goes on "60 Minutes," Carolyn sits by his side, as Hillary did with Bill Clinton, and then...

PRESS: Worked before.

OLSON: ... talked about it -- I go back to the old thing. I think Bill Clinton is unique, and I'm going to keep him in that -- in that place, in that box, as Mr. Clinton would like to say.

PRESS: So you think he's dead?

OLSON: I don't think Gary Condit can, and I'll tell you why. It's the makeup of his constituency. It's a small -- and understand, president of the United States has a nationwide. It's a very important job. People think it's very serious to take down a president, to remove a president. And obviously, as played out in the United States Senate, it wasn't something anyone took lightly, and I think that's why the senators voted against removal.

This is a congressman with a very small group of constituents, with a young lady who lives there who is his own constituent, that he hasn't acted really well. I think even people who love Gary Condit would say he should have had a little more empathy for Chandra Levy and her parents. He lied to her parents. I don't think he has a chance because of that.

It's personal. They know the people very well

PRESS: He's also a man, I think everybody in his district would agree, that has served, for the last 12 years, has served his district well, has delivered for his district...

OLSON: A rising star.

PRESS: ... reflects that district. And you're saying, because of this one thing, they're going to turn against the 12 years on that basis alone.

OLSON: It's not just one thing. We got to see a real important character flaw in Gary Condit. We got to look into the man, and we got to see how does he react when he's under political attack and there's something so important, a human life was at stake. And we got to see something we don't normally see.

EPSTEIN: Let me tell you what I think he needs to do. I think he needs to, first of all, come out and again express what he hasn't done. I think he should have done it in a statement responding to "The Modesto Bee" that he is personally and emotionally distraught by the fact that she is gone.

Here's a woman he had a relationship with. He hasn't even expressed the fact that he's dismayed by that.

Secondly, he has to acknowledge that he did make a mistake. It was a failure on his part, and he has to give an explanation for that. And I guess the explanation for that is that he got into a bad situation and he panicked. He didn't know what to do. He believed that she would turn up. And I think that if he goes and expresses the fact that he made a mistake, he did things he wasn't supposed to do, but he is cooperating now with the police, and if it turns out that the police are correct, that what they believe, although it's not clear, that they believe in fact he had nothing do with her disappearance, then there is some possibility for political resuscitation.

NOVAK: You know, Bill, my friend Bill Press, when he was in Democratic politics lost a lot of elections...

PRESS: And I won elections.

NOVAK: I think he has just shown me why tonight, but you are a little more sophisticated.

EPSTEIN: I don't believe that.

NOVAK: I think you are. And I want to ask you: Do you think it is possible that Dan Schnur is saying please nominate this guy, this is a very closely-held House of Representatives, we want one more Republican seat, boy, we think he can win, please nominate him? Isn't there a little of that?

EPSTEIN: No, I think that's a little bit too cute for Dan, that's a little bit too cute for you Bob.

NOVAK: Too cute for Dan Schnur?

EPSTEIN: I think it's a little cute. No, I think that, again, I think that the constituents are going to make this decision, and they will make the decision based on the totality of the circumstances. I think that, again, you know, F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "the test of intelligence is to keep two seemingly conflicting things in your mind at the same time."

People can say, on the one hand, that he has acted very irresponsibly, but at same time all of the evidence seems to point away from him as being responsible for her disappearance.

OLSON: One hundred and six days of panic? I don't think anybody will buy 106 days of panic.

NOVAK: I want to tell you what the people buy. You know, it isn't just the people of the -- what's number there in that district -- you know?

EPSTEIN: The number in California? Don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It isn't just the people of the 18th congressional district...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It isn't just the 18th congressional district, it is the people of the whole country are interested, and there is that incredible, incredible CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup Poll taken last week, and they asked if Gary Condit is directly involved in Chandra Levy's disappearance. Very likely, 29 percent, somewhat likely 36 percent, not likely 27 percent. Sixty-five percent of the people in the country think he was involved in the disappearance.

EPSTEIN: And that's a disturbing thing to me, Bob, and it should be to you. I mean, this is the United States of America, and the notion that a guy is now being convicted essentially in the court of public opinion, notwithstanding the fact that nobody has produced the slightest bit of evidence that he was involved in the disappearance, and in fact, not only that, but the police are saying, Bob...

NOVAK: But if you really...

EPSTEIN: ... but the police are saying, Bob, that he is not even a suspected figure.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: But let me ask my question: If you are innocent, and you see 65 percent of the people think that...

OLSON: You come forward.

NOVAK: You immediately say, boy, I've got to say something, I don't wait for -- you say it's going to come pretty soon, in weeks, in weeks?

OLSON: People are using their common sense, and that's why they are coming to that conclusion.

(CROSSTALK)

OLSON: Well, let me tell you what happened: We've got a man who was having an affair with a woman, and if someone is missing, that's the first place you go, did something go wrong. Then we have Gary Condit who didn't tell the truth, he had his staff out there lying about the relationship. He lied to the missing woman's parents.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... we're almost out of time. First of all, I want to point out that that same poll, the same people, 51 percent of them say he should not resign, so if say they're using common sense, maybe they are. But I have to ask you this question: You know what's going on, as Julian pointed out, for 15 weeks there has been nothing else going on, the media has been on a feeding frenzy on Gary Condit.

After for 15 weeks every day, people on media knowing nothing are saying that this guy was responsible for her disappearance, are you surprised that 61 percent of the American people...

NOVAK: Sixty-five.

PRESS: Sixty-five -- should think he is somewhat involved? The media is framing him, aren't they?

OLSON: No, the media is not hanging him. Gary Condit has done this himself.

PRESS: Done what?

OLSON: It is not the media!

PRESS: Done what? Done what?

OLSON: Gary Condit has decided to hire a PR person that doesn't give information, and then have staff go out and mislead the public, mislead the girl's family. Gary Condit is a smart man and he has done this -- and you know what common sense says? If he is innocent, why wouldn't he tell the public that he's sorry? As Julian said, why wouldn't he show some remorse? We could only look at this what common sense tells us.

EPSTEIN: I think he had mistakes, he's had mistakes, I think he does have to address the public, but I think that that 65 percent figure reflects the fact that the media has essentially hung him, as Bill said, in a way that's unfair without any evidence to point to his guilt.

PRESS: That has to be it. Julian Epstein, thank you. Barbara Olson, always good to have you back. Think we will be talking about this again. Thank you very much, and we will -- Bob Novak and I will have some closing comments about Gary Condit's political future in California's 18th congressional district, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Bob, I can't believe it, I go away for 10 days, I come back, you are still beating up on Gary Condit! Look, let me just say two things quickly: Number one, I think he owes his constituents and the public an explanation, and I think we will hear it soon. Number two, if it's clear he has nothing to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance, mark my words, Gary Condit will run for re-election, he'll win.

NOVAK: Every political forecaster and demagogue that I have come across always likes to attack the editorial writers, attacks the press, attacks the newspapers, says it's a fourth-estate lynching, and you, Bill, even though you used to be a politician, you are a member of the fourth estate now, you shouldn't attack your own kind!

PRESS: Bob, I'm not proud of everything the media does, and I'm not proud of media's lynching of Gary Condit -- no evidence!

NOVAK: Particularly when they justly attack a Democrat.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press, good tonight for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: On the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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