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Gary Condit Breaks His Silence

Aired August 23, 2001 - 12:30   ET



Today, people in Gary Condit's home district of Modesto, California are receiving a letter from their congressman -- the goal: to explain himself to his constitutes regarding his relationship with Chandra Levy. Tonight, ABC will broadcast an interview with Condit and veteran news reporter Connie Chung, which was previously taped.

Now, the broadcast marks the first televised interview the congressman has given since Levy's disappearance. Condit was also interviewed by "People" magazine on Tuesday. That issue hits the newsstands tomorrow. "Newsweek" magazine plans to interview Condit Friday. And an additional interview is scheduled with a Sacramento television station.

Joining us today from Chicago: First Amendment attorney Martin Redish; from Miami, criminal defense attorney Jayne Weintraub; and here in Washington, Sean Merrill (ph), political communications consultant Regina Corso, and Jerrold Hossid (ph).

Let's go first right to you, Regina.

I see this as a battle between the public relations people, who obviously are interested in saving his political career, and his legal advisers, who are obviously concerned about the fact that perhaps there's going to be some kind of legal ramifications that come out of what he might say. So what would you advise him -- as a person that is a political communications expert, how would you be advising him and how would you be preparing Gary Condit for tonight?

REGINA CORSO, POLITICAL COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT: Well, if I was his political adviser, I probably would have quit out of frustration months ago.

But, for tonight, he's got to come out and he's got to tell the truth. He can't have the angry look that we've all seen on him. He can't have the smirk that we've all seen on him. He has to be contrite. He basically has to do a mea culpa: I am sorry. I am sorry that I didn't come sooner.

COSSACK: But there's going to be some -- we think there's going to be difficult questions asked of him that perhaps are going to be very hard for him to answer. How do you prepare him to answer those kinds of questions? CORSO: If he doesn't want to answer the questions, he should just step down right now. And that way he can go back to saying: I'm a private citizen. I'm never going to run for reelection again. And I don't have to answer any of these questions.

He's not. He's made it very clear he's running for reelection, So, therefore, if he wants to win, tell the truth. That's all his constituents want to hear. And that's the only people it matters to tonight, his constitutes, not the millions across the country who are going to be watching it.

COSSACK: Jayne, become the lawyer for Gary Condit now. You have a client who, while not being called a suspect by the police, is being called everything but a suspect. We have a missing young woman who people presume the worst. You now represent this man. We know that he is one of the last people to have seen her alive. Obviously, that puts him in some kind of suspicious avenue. What do you advise your client?

JAYNE WEINTRAUB, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think I advise him just as Abbe Lowell did. And although we didn't call him a suspect, is there any doubt that he was the chief focus and a suspect of the investigation, at least in America's eyes?

He was clearly the only focus. So, of course, he could not speak with and was not free to speak with the media, as far as the lawyer was concerned. Regina is right. It was the lawyers against the publicity people. I disagree that he was an angry-looking man. I think he's frustrated. I think that Gary Condit is an innocent man and the -- of any wrongdoing whatsoever with regards to the missing -- or the unfortunate death of Chandra Levy.

I think that Condit's only mistake is not being honest about an affair. And what kind of lines do we want to draw about our congressmen? Do we want our congressmen to have to come forward and talk about their private and personal lives before they run? That's the real question here.

COSSACK: Well, perhaps when they're involved with a young woman who is missing and perhaps dead, they are required to come out and talk about those kinds of things.

WEINTRAUB: But he came forward and he spoke with the police. And we know that now. And isn't that who his responsibility is to, is to law enforcement? Isn't that what his constitutes should be concerned about, that he went and he told the people that mattered and that could help and locate and investigate the death or the missing- persons problem of Chandra Levy? Isn't that what we should be concerned about instead...

COSSACK: So, if you were advising him, Jayne, with that theory...


COSSACK: ... then would you be advising him to be having this interview with Connie Chung tonight? I mean, what -- if he has spoken to the police and he can turn to his constitutes and say, "Look, I have done everything that I needed to do, then would you be advising him to have this interview?"

WEINTRAUB: Sure, if I were satisfied -- as I'm sure Abbe Lowell is at this point -- if I were satisfied that he was cleared of any wrongdoing in a criminal arena by the police and/or FBI, then I think his next responsibility is to his public, is to his constituency.

And, unfortunately, because of the media frenzy, I think that this is the right thing to do. But he had to wait.

COSSACK: OK. But we never know as lawyers -- we never know what the police know. And you know that. And we never also know what they may turn up. And we also know one other thing as lawyers, that sometimes -- and I'm not saying this is the case -- but sometimes our clients don't tell us 100 percent of what we ought to know.

Wouldn't you be concerned about this man suddenly getting up there in front of the public and answering things that could come back to haunt him later on? Would you let him do it?

WEINTRAUB: I would let him do it if I believed -- as I'm sure Abbe Lowell does -- that Gary Condit had absolutely nothing to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance.

COSSACK: OK, let's go through some possible questions.

WEINTRAUB: Remember, he passed a polygraph. I mean, there are lots of things in place here.

COSSACK: Yes, a polygraph given by his own polygraph examiner. You and I both know what those are.


WEINTRAUB: Roger, you do know how reliable they are. And you do know how reliable they can be as an investigative tool. And that's why the FBI and the police wanted it.

COSSACK: Right, particularly when they're given by the person that I as the lawyer hired to give them. They can be sometimes even better and reliable. But let's not go there.

Let's me ask you a few questions.


COSSACK: OK, Regina, your client Gary Condit is now facing Connie Chung, and she says to him: Describe your relationship with Chandra Levy.

What do you have him say?

CORSO: He has to answer. He has to say: We did have an affair. It is something I am not proud of, but it is something that we did have.

COSSACK: The next question is, Jayne: When was the last time you saw her, Congressman Condit? And describe the kind of mood that she was in.

WEINTRAUB: I absolutely tell the truth. I tell them that I was probably -- now I know I was one of the last people to see her alive. And she was in a perfectly good mood -- if that's what the truth is.

COSSACK: But what if... .

WEINTRAUB: I think...

COSSACK: Yes, go ahead. I'm sorry.

WEINTRAUB: Roger, what I was going to say is, I think that the only problem with any question here is -- and I keep throwing this out -- why has the FBI and the D.C. police gotten away with the distraction and diversion of all this sensational sex and frenzy of the media about their affair, instead of: Why wasn't an area canvass done right away? What are they doing about finding and locating her?

That had nothing to do with Gary Condit or his bad judgment in having an affair. That's a personal matter that he has to deal with his wife and his kids with. Don't you agree?

COSSACK: Jayne, you know, I do. I agree in some ways. But I think, to be honest with you -- and nothing against the congressman -- but I think he obviously brought a little of this on himself by not being as forthcoming as he possibly could have the first time he met the police, and taking three times before he was forthcoming.

That's what I think stirred this whole thing up.


COSSACK: I have got to take a break.

Up next: Congressman Condit wrote a letter to his constituents. But will this letter make peace or only bring more unanswered questions?

Don't go away.


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COSSACK: The residents of Condit country will open their mailboxes today and find a personal letter addressed to them. In a mass mailing to his constituents, Congressman Gary Condit addressed his so-called silence during the search for Chandra Levy.

And in an effort to defend his silence and distance himself from the disappearance of Chandra Levy, Congressman Condit writes -- quote -- "I pray that she has not met the same fate as the other young women who have disappeared from the same neighborhood" -- end quote.

Jayne, I want to now put you in on the preparation sessions for your client, Congressman Condit, tonight. And one of the questions that may be asked of him -- and he needs your advice is -- the first question is: Congressman Condit, why did you lie?

What are you going to have him say?

WEINTRAUB: I'm going to have him say the truth. And the truth is: I'm not perfect. I didn't lie to the police about what they wanted to know. What they wanted to know was about the disappearance or any wrongful conduct with Chandra Levy. And, God, I pray that she is safe and alive. Unfortunately, I had nothing to do with it. I can't help you with it.

Did I lie about having an affair with her? Yes. I am a man that I am not proud to be right now. And I have to humbly and candidly stand here and tell you I lied to the police about it because I was not ready to jeopardize my family and my children so publicly. And I'm sorry for that. I'm deeply sorry.

COSSACK: And then...

WEINTRAUB: That is what I would tell my client to say.

COSSACK: And then what about when someone follows up with him: Why did you tell Anne Marie Smith or ask Anne Marie Smith to sign an affidavit that could be construed as not being truthful?


And I think any other answer is not going to be accepted. I think that's got to be the truthful answer, Roger. I think that if Gary Condit were not prepared tonight to give 100 percent of the truth, he wouldn't be doing this. He had no wrongful involvement. And Abbe Lowell must feel very confident in that.

And so he's going on camera to tell the truth. He must be humble. He must be remorseful. He must be sympathetic to the Levy family, which I'm sure he is. And he must be informative. He must emphasize and stress that he cooperated completely from the beginning of this investigation. Don't forget, he submitted himself to DNA samples. He submitted himself to a voluntary search of his apartment, of his home. This is a man who has undergone quite a bit of exposure unnecessarily and voluntarily in order to cooperate with law enforcement to locate Chandra Levy.

This is not the actions of a guilty person, Roger. This is the actions of a man who probably was in love with her or had an affair with her and is living to regret that affair, but loved her nonetheless.

COSSACK: OK, Regina, now I'm going to -- I've been tough on Jayne. Now I've got to be tough on you. You've got to protect this man politically.

And now Connie Chung looks over and says: Tell me, Congressman Condit, you knew the police were coming to search your apartment the next day, or imminently. Why were you out there in Virginia trying to get rid of this box that apparently held a bracelet or a ring that -- or a watch, I think it might have been. Anyway, it was something that you were trying the get rid of. Why were you doing that?

CORSO: I would have to give the same answer: panic. He's got to say: I panicked. I know it was wrong. I'm sorry I did it. But I did not want this other affair to come out. At this point I was just worried about my family. At this point I was, yes, worried about my job. And I wanted to protect myself. It was wrong.


WEINTRAUB: As you can see now, if I could add, Roger -- as you could see now, it had nothing to do with any wrongdoing. And it had no connection whatsoever to the homicide of Chandra Levy or the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

We now know what it was. Doesn't that show you how desperate he was?

COSSACK: Well, desperate is an interesting word, which I'm sure the congressman may not want to have associated with him in the way he's acted.

But what I'm suggesting here -- and, Regina, I want to go back to you -- you are here, and I'm asking you ways that I can save -- that Gary Condit can save his political career. And you are saying, he's just going to have to come up and say: I lied. I was dishonest. I acted crazy. I did all these kinds of things, but I'm here now to tell the truth.

CORSO: Will it definitely help? Will it save him? I have no idea. Right now, there's 53 percent of his constitutes who do not want to see him reelected. He's got to start whittling down those numbers. He's got 37 percent of Democrats in his district. That's who he needs to go to.

COSSACK: Let's talk about this letter, for example. Here's his letter that wrote.

And he starts off. He said: When Chandra's father called me and asked me for help, I contacted the police to see if there would be a reward fund. And I said, yes, there would be. So I help start a reward fund.

But what he doesn't put in there is, he was also asked if he was having an affair with the Levys' daughter, which he said no to. Now, is this the kind of thing that should have been involved in the letter or should have been included?

CORSO: Yes, it had to be included. Everybody now knows. Everybody knows he had an affair. To send that letter out without stating it at some point -- just to say that he's not perfect, that's his way of admitting to the affair. But people need to see it in black and white. If it's not in black and white, then they say he's still covering it up.

These -- that letter is the most important thing he has going for him. It is to his constituents.

COSSACK: Jayne, he says right after that, he says: "Since that day, and every day, I have cooperated and worked with law enforcement to find Chandra. I invited the police to my apartment. I asked the FBI to help."

But he doesn't say that in fact there were things that he didn't tell the police. He said he cooperated right from the start. But we all know that he didn't cooperate from the start. Should that be included in this letter?


WEINTRAUB: I disagree with your statement. I think he did cooperate completely with law enforcement. He was asked questions and he answered them. Wasn't the focus of the investigation locating Chandra Levy?


WEINTRAUB: When you say he didn't cooperate, are you saying because he withheld the fact that he had a physical or sexual or emotional affair with her? What does that have to do with the fact that he had no involvement criminally with her disappearance?

COSSACK: Well -- but it may have helped the police in finding her, because he was the last person to see her and could have talked about her state of mind, which he chose not to.

WEINTRAUB: And isn't that just another excuse for the FBI's lackadaisical or negligence here, or the Washington, D.C. police's, for that matter?

COSSACK: It may be the FBI's lack. But if they don't have the information that this man could have told them, it's hard to say that they're lackadaisical.

WEINTRAUB: Roger, everybody knows that first thing you do in a homicide investigation is an area canvass. That wasn't done for over a month. Does that have anything to do with Gary Condit having an affair with her? Of course not. This is all a diversion.


COSSACK: Look, I don't want to pick on him. But I think one of the first things you do is, you go to people who know the person that is missing, who knows the person that is missing intimately. And you hope that they give you the truth or they give you the information as quickly as you can. I think that is what the argument is going to be.

WEINTRAUB: Well, clearly, he should have.

COSSACK: All right. Let's take a break.

Up next: Will Connie Chung become an agent for law enforcement?

Stay with us.


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COSSACK: Connie Chung's interview with Gary Condit airs tonight. But once the silence has been broken, does ABC really control the interview or can it be subpoenaed by investigators and possibly used against the congressman? And doesn't this impede a free and independent press?

Martin, let's come to you now.

What exactly could the authorities subpoena tonight. Now, we know it's live-to-tape. And they've said that it's not going to be edited. But, in fact, the way it works is, those cameras are going to be running the minute he walks in that door. And if there's some banter that guess on before the show starts, or some conversation after the show starts, that will be recorded, but will be never shown to the press.

Does that mean that authorities would have the right to see things that were not shown on the air?

MARTIN REDISH, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: Well, I think it could be argued. But I think both Condit and ABC News should proceed on the assumption of a worst-case scenario: that government, through a subpoena, could acquire all the outtakes, all the preparatory materials.

Usually, the courts use a kind of compelling-interests standard. They recognize a First Amendment privacy interest on the part of the media. But they haven't been that resistant to overcoming that interest on a showing of whatever they deem a compelling interest. A criminal investigation, in the abstract, would at least be in that general area. Whether the police would have to show some specific need, some specific reason they think this would be helpful, I think would be up for dispute.

COSSACK: So the way it would stand normally would be that only that part of the show which is actually broadcast would normally be able to be subpoenaed. But if there was a compelling reason, things that weren't shown on the air perhaps could also be subpoenaed.

REDISH: Right. National security interests would be the classic


COSSACK: Or a criminal investigation.

REDISH: A criminal investigation would be right up there, yes.

COSSACK: All right.

Now, what does that usually mean in terms of the free exchange of ideas in this kind of a setting? In other words, would Condit be advised, therefore, to not make any small talk, to walk in, sit down, start A, end B, and nothing more?

REDISH: Well, I don't deal in criminal law. But if I were a criminal lawyer, I would be hesitant about his doing the interview to begin with. So I think I would say at the very least, as you tell a witness at a deposition: Don't answer anything more than is asked to you.

But I think in the broad, abstract sense, there's a serious threat to First Amendment interests here if government is allowed to conduct what amounts to a kind of guerrilla warfare against the media. And by getting media's outtakes, media's private thoughts and notes, for example, you are giving government a very powerful weapon. I'm not sure the courts have been sufficiently sensitive to that concern.

COSSACK: So the concern, therefore, would be perhaps to tell -- if you are going to advise Condit, you would say: Listen, no small talk. Just go in there. When the show starts, you answer questions. When the show is over, stop talking. That's the really -- only way to protect yourself.

REDISH: Well, from Condit's point of view, that's true. ABC News has its own First Amendment interests involved here. And I think they have to proceed on the assumption that anything said, just like "60 Minutes" had to produce stuff in a defamation suit, Herbert v. Lando -- they had to produce all their preparatory notes. And that was a civil case. I would say ABC has to be aware of that danger here.


Jayne, is there any question that you would not allow Gary Condit to answer tonight?

WEINTRAUB: I think that would be the biggest mistake of all. And if there is, I would certainly hope he wouldn't be doing this interview. And I'm sure this interview is because he wants to do it after considering all the advice that he's been given by his lawyers and publicity people. Remember, this is damage control for the congressman. This is an opportunity that Gary Condit has asked for in order to gain back the trust and the confidence of his constituents for the good work that he's done as a congressman.

This isn't a popularity contest of: I'm sorry I had an affair with Chandra Levy.

This is convincing them he had nothing to do with her disappearance, and to: Please understand my record as a congressman had nothing to do with my affair with Chandra Levy.

COSSACK: Regina...

WEINTRAUB: That's what Gary Condit is there for.


Regina, we've got just a few seconds left.

There was an implication in "Talk" magazine that Chandra Levy had given an ultimatum to Congressman Condit right before she disappeared.

CORSO: Right.

COSSACK: If, in fact, that question is asked, and the truth is yes, would you let the congressman answer that question?

CORSO: Half of me says, yes, he's got to answer it, because he's got to answer everything. But if he answers it, if that is true, then he should just at that point say: And right now I need to resign from my seat. I am not going to run for reelection.

WEINTRAUB: That's unrealistic.

CORSO: It is unrealistic, but what he's got -- I mean, that's the only way he can get away with it.

COSSACK: All right. I'm afraid that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests. Thank you for watching.

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of "BURDEN OF PROOF." We're going to see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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