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Gary Condit Sends Letter to Constituents

Aired August 23, 2001 - 08:02   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.
COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to begin with the letter. CNN has obtained a copy of the letter that Congressman Gary Condit is sending to his constituents in Modesto, California. It came to us via our affiliate, KOVR, in Sacramento. Someone walked into the station, handed a copy there. We've got it here now.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. It's two-and-a-half pages long, and we are going to read it to you in its entirety.

It begins: "Dear Friends and Neighbors: Chandra Levy has been missing for nearly four months. I am sorry that the pain the Levy family and Chandra's friends are feeling has grown worse with each passing day.

"When Chandra's dad called me to tell me she was missing, he asked for my help. I contacted the police to see if a reward fund would help find her. They said it would, so I helped start one.

"Since that day and every day since, I have cooperated and worked with law enforcement to find Chandra. I invited the police to my apartment. I asked the FBI to help.

"Despite my best attempts to help the police find Chandra, some in the media have criticized me for remaining silent.

"I have not been silent with those in charge of finding Chandra.

"I have answered every single question asked by the police and FBI. When tabloids turned the tragedy of Chandra's disappearance into a spectacle and rumors were reported as facts, I decided that I would not discuss my private life in the media.

"Some suggest that not talking with the media could mean I had something to do with Chandra's disappearance. I did not. I pray that she has not met the same fate as the other young women who have disappeared from the same neighborhood.

"I will be interviewed on television and hopefully I will be able to answer questions that help people understand.

"It is not something I look forward to. But things have gone on long enough.

"Before speaking to the media, I wanted to write to you. I have known so many of you for a long time. You know me to be hard working, committed to our issues and dedicated to my community and my family. I hope you also will understand that I am not perfect and have made my share of mistakes.

"For 30 years as a local Mayor, County Supervisor, State Assemblyman and Congressman, thousands of people have come to me with their personal problems.

"A son in trouble, a mother in a nursing home, a job that was lost, a farm going broke, a mortgage that couldn't be paid.

"And each time, people trusted that I would treat their problems with care.

"I hope our relationship is strong enough to endure all of this.

"For now, I want my work in Congress to improve our communities. Please know that you can still bring me your concerns and your problems.

"Thank you for the kindness you have shown Carolyn and my family."

MCEDWARDS: All right. And CNN's Rusty Dornin is in Modesto for us this morning.

Rusty, I know it's really early there, but do you have any idea at this point whether or not this letter is actually circulating there at this point?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From what we understand, Colleen, about 127,000 of these letters will be delivered to the constituents throughout the district -- the 18th District -- here today.

And, yes, it's very early here.

But joining us with a little bit of reaction from both sides, we have Inalee Bhend, who is a Condit supporter, and Nick Bavaro, who is a Republican constituent. And we'll talk to Inalee first.

You have read the letter.

INALEE BHEND, CONDIT SUPPORTER: I have read through it once, yes.

DORNIN: What is your first impression?

BHEND: Well, my first impression was that it is a good start in what we need to hear from Gary. And, of course, it's the beginning of a dialog, but will go on for the next several months.

DORNIN: But I know when you first read it, you said it didn't go quite far enough. What did you mean?

BHEND: Well, I thought that it would have been better that if he had emphasized more just how much cooperation he has given the police. If he had given some additional details on that, it would have made me feel better.

DORNIN: Did it bother you that he ignored mentioning anything really about his relationship with Chandra Levy?

BHEND: No, it didn't, not at all. That part of it is his concern is finding her, and that should be all of our concerns.

DORNIN: OK. Do you think it's going to be enough to sway those who are right in the middle now to support Condit?

BHEND: I think what it will do is help those people to remember and sort of clarify some of the confusion that they have been going through recently.

DORNIN: So still, you're still on his team.

BHEND: Absolutely.

DORNIN: OK. Thank you very much, Inalee Bhend.

And now to Nick Bavaro, who is a Republican constituent here in the 18th District.

What was your impression from the letter?

NICK BAVARO, REPUBLICAN ACTIVIST: Well, first of all, this is political spin. It wasn't written by Gary. It is written by his handlers.

I wish it would have addressed the issue of I'm sorry for not being forthright to my constituents when I asked my attorneys to ask the "Washington Post" to retract the story that I wasn't having an affair with her. Indeed, he was. I think he should have explained to his constituents why he had put together this affidavit for the airline stewardess to sign. I think he needed to address the issue of some more personal issues on the affair that he was having. And what was actually going on between him and Ms. Levy, and everything he knows about her situation.

So I think that, you know, this was glazed over. He is going to be criticized by some people in this area. They are going to view this as Gary Condit giving his business card to another airline stewardess.

DORNIN: Do you think that this is angering people, who might be in the middle, I mean, rather than pushing them over to the other side?

BAVARO: Well, the people in the middle are going to read this, and it's three pages, first of all. So I don't know -- not everybody is a political junkie like us. So it may just not be completely read.

But I think people that get the letter are going to want to know No. 1, exactly what was going on with Ms. Levy and him; why he didn't apologize to the Levys; why he wasn't forthright -- why did Gary Condit, when he met with Ms. Levy, was not forthright and truthful about the relationship; why he waited so long; why today is he sending a letter out. Why not two months ago? I mean, this could have been written two months ago, sent out, and the media wouldn't be hounding him.

Actually, it makes it look like in this letter he is trying to project himself or project that he is a victim of the media. And I don't think that's going to fly at all.

DORNIN: OK. Nick Bavaro, you have several questions, I think, that you might have asked Congressman Condit.

But I do want to ask, Inalee, is there a question -- if you were the interviewer today, is there a question you would like to ask the congressman?

BHEND: Yes. I'd like to ask him why he waited so long? And that -- the reason for that is that I would like him to be able to explain that there were political and legal reasons why he couldn't talk until now.

DORNIN: OK. Inalee Bhend and Nick Bavaro, thank you very much.

The constituents here in the 18th District, some of them just waking up and soon going to their mailboxes and opening the letters, and we'll be getting a little more reaction later -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: And, Rusty, just before you go, you know there have been a lot of questions about how all of this was going to be paid for. And right at the bottom of this letter, very, very fine print, it says: "Not printed or mailed at public expense. Paid for by Condit for Congress." It gives a Modesto address. That would be what?

DORNIN: Condit for Congress -- I'm sorry. I didn't -- I didn't follow your question.

MCEDWARDS: It indicates on the letter here that it was not printed or mailed at public expense. It was paid for by Condit for Congress. That's his own -- what -- private fund-raising?

DORNIN: I gather it's another group that's here. Yes. Actually, I'm not familiar with the group

(CROSSTALK)

MCEDWARDS: OK. All right -- just checking. At any rate, it indicates here, "Not printed or mailed at public expense."

CNN's Rusty Dornin, thanks very much -- Carol.

LIN: All right.

Well, let's check in with CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He might know. Bill, we're going to get to the letter very quickly here. But first, just as Colleen was asking Rusty out there, at the bottom of the letter it does say not printed or mailed at public expense, but paid for by Condit for Congress.

Who is that?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No taxpayer money was used to pay for this mailing period. So that if you wanted to criticize him and saying why is he paying for -- using public funds to explain himself, he is not.

LIN: All right. Well, he is trying to explain himself in this letter.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

LIN: So let's get right to it. The first graft that I'm looking at here, it reads: "Despite my best attempts to help the police find Chandra, some in the media have criticized me for remaining silent. I have not been silent with those in charge of finding Chandra. I have answered every single question asked by the police and FBI."

Is that true?

SCHNEIDER: That's the -- well, he may have been -- he was apparently cooperative with the authorities, although it took him a long time. They had three interviews with the D.C. police. He had another interview with the FBI. The question is why did it take him so long?

His argument is for those who have criticized me for not -- for impeding the investigation, obstruction, not being cooperative, I have been silent with the media. I have not been silent with the authorities.

But the question that the constituent just raised is, well, maybe you did cooperate, but it took you a long time, and you were very reluctant.

LIN: And certainly appealing to his relationship with his constituents in this next graft here. He says: "I have known so many of you for a long time. You know me to be a -- to be hard working, committed to our issues and dedicated to my community and my family."

Now, the last part of that struck some of us in the newsroom as a little odd to say given the circumstances.

SCHNEIDER: Well, essentially he is saying that I have a personal relationship with you. We are family. You know me. I have been your representative in the state legislature and Congress for a long time. He is making the argument, I have been there for you. Will you be there for me?

LIN: Well, he seems to be touching on that in this last page, too. He says: "I hope our relationship is strong enough to endure all of this. For now, I want my work in Congress to improve our communities."

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's right. Our relationship -- it's a very personal relationship. Like most House members, he has a personal relationship with his constituents. He recounts all of the times he has helped them when he is in trouble. He is saying, I'm in trouble now. People are criticizing me. The media is coming after me. Are you going to be there for me?

It's dwelling on that kind of personal relationship that a lot of local politicians have with their constituents, and essentially talking to them as if he were -- they were members of his family. He uses the word "family" very carefully there. We are family, even acknowledges at one point, "I am not perfect and have made my share of mistakes." That's the closest that he comes to any kind of explanation or apology.

The letter really isn't an apology or an explanation of his behavior. He doesn't go much into his behavior, except to say, "I am not perfect." This is a conversation you can imagine a family having around a kitchen table.

LIN: And real quickly, he also doesn't go into what his future may be. All he does here is say, "For now, I want my work in Congress." Is that a hedge?

SCHNEIDER: Well, for now he is saying -- it can be taken as a hedge. But everything in the letter indicates that he intends to keep working as a representative of these constituents. And there is no indication here that he intends to step aside.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much, Bill Schneider in Washington.

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