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Want Do People Want to Hear From Gary Condit?

Aired August 23, 2001 - 08:16   ET


COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to bring you more now on the story of Congressman Gary Condit, his prime-time network television interview tonight, also the letter that he has sent to his constituents. It's going out today. We have a copy of it here this morning.

There are obviously some risks in going public, doing an interview, some of them political, some legal. Let's get that perspective now from Kendall Coffey in Miami. You know him as an attorney for Al Gore after November's election. He also represented the Miami family trying to keep Elian Gonzalez in the United States.

Mr. Coffey, thanks for being here.

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Good morning, thanks for inviting me.

MCEDWARDS: What strikes you about this letter?

COFFEY: Well, it's predictable in the sense that it tells you the kind of things that Condit's going to want to talk about tonight when he's interviewed, his concern for the Levy family and his statement that he's cooperated fully.

What's interesting are going to be the things that he may not want to talk about. He said in that letter that he has answered all of the questions of investigators. Critical in terms of how that really plays out is have the investigators questioned him just about disappearance issues or have they gone in to what I think is the more perilous area for Condit tonight, issues of possible obstruction. Obstruction, as we know, is a broad concept and that's where the greatest peril is from a legal and even potentially a criminal law standpoint.

MCEDWARDS: Well, and I mean do you mean by that that investigators, even though they've spoken to him a number of times, will they be watching this interview looking for things that they've missed or looking for evidence, as you say, of further obstruction?

COFFEY: They will be watching this closely, and their focus is not going to be that of the rest of the country, they'll be focusing on obstruction related issues. For example, if Condit is asked did he in fact fail to tell the police the truth in the first several interviews, that's a very tough question because you don't want to admit it and admit to possible obstruction. You don't want to deny it, necessarily, because the police will know the truth and can certainly refute it if he does.

On the other hand, you don't want to stonewall it. And there's a category of questions like that that there may not be any good answer for Condit. We don't know the extent to which he's already been grilled on those areas by investigators because so far they may have focused just on the disappearance issues.


COFFEY: But one way or another, if he gets those questions tonight, he's going to be walking through, frankly, a mine field.

MCEDWARDS: And how would you advise a client in terms of getting through that mine field?

COFFEY: Well, advice number one is don't do it. But then when he says I'm politically at the end of my career if I don't get on the air, you try to work through a damage control scenario. First and foremost, stick closely word by word to the script of what you have already said to investigators. That's first and foremost.

Second, you've got to go through a couple problem questions. He's going to be asked did he have a phone call with Anne Marie Smith in which he asked her to sign an affidavit. She's gone on public television -- she's gone on CNN saying that's so. How does he deal with it tonight because one of the realities of going on TV is anything you say can and perhaps will be used against you down the road. So he has to be very, very careful about what he says. For the tough questions, there's almost no good answer that he can give.


COFFEY: Obviously,...

MCEDWARDS: In terms of the questions that maybe aren't so important legally but are politically, because, as you've said, this is really about both, how far does he have to go and, you know, what might be the pitfalls if he does go down the road of acknowledging the affair, expressing how he felt with this in his own family?

COFFEY: I think the relationship questions, which are going to be tough and embarrassing, politically and personally, in many ways have the least legal peril because whatever may be his transgressions there, they typically are not going to implicate criminal law. The concern really is what, if anything, has Condit done since this matter broke to delay, to impede, allegedly to obstruct a possible investigation. Those are the difficult things.

He's going to get grilled on the personal questions. He's going to be ready for those. Those are not going to be nearly so important to his lawyer or to the investigators watching it is the other questions that go into the areas of possible obstruction.

MCEDWARDS: Understood. Kendall Coffey, thanks so much for your time this morning.

COFFEY: Thank you.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Legal, personal, political, lots of questions about Congressman Gary Condit. And certainly people in New York City know how to ask it like it is.

Jason Carroll standing by in Times Square talking to folks.

What do people want to know out there, Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, lots of questions that folks have out here this morning. We're just north of Times Square where, as you know, Carol, it is one of the busiest places on Earth.

I have tracked down three people here. We have Pat (ph), we have Alissa (ph) and we have Alberto (ph).

Now, Pat, you were telling me on your way to work Gary Condit was one of the last things on your mind and of course now I'm forcing you to give us an opinion. What do you think about the interview tonight?

PAT: I'm going to watch the interview. I am interested to hear what he has to say and why it took him so long to come forward.

CARROLL: If you had an opportunity to ask him anything, and we've been hearing this all morning long on CNN, what would you ask him?

PAT: I just wonder why he waited so long to admit that he had any -- that he had an affair with her. Everybody thought that he did. I mean it was -- the evidence was there. And why did he take so much time to lie. Is he now protecting his political career?

CARROLL: All right, Alissa, you were telling me you are not going to watch tonight and you can't understand why we're focusing so much attention on this particular case.

ALISSA: Yes, I honestly don't think I'm going to watch tonight. I think that the reason why he's even being interviewed or so much media attention is focusing on this is because she's from a rich family and he's a politician. And I just feel like there's so many other cases that nobody knows about that aren't being focused on so I'd rather, you know, watch something else or read my book.

CARROLL: All right. OK, all right, thank you. Don't go away just yet.

And, Alberto, you definitely have a question that you'd like to ask...


CARROLL: ... Gary Condit. What would you like to ask? ALBERTO: I'd like to ask him, you know, Gary, why in the world did you wait almost a month to even say anything? You know there's a lady's life is in the balance. So I guess, you know, it's a question I would ask what's more important, a person's life or your political career?

CARROLL: All right. Out of the three of you, is there anything that you think will be revealed tonight that hasn't been revealed before?

PAT: No, I don't think we're going to learn anything at all.

ALISSA: I don't think so at all. I think it's just going to be more stories. And the reason why it took so long for him to agree to an interview is so that he could, you know, tweak another story some more and just make it sound legitimate.

CARROLL: OK. Alberto.

ALBERTO: I think the only thing that's going to come out is what he's written.

CARROLL: All right. All right, thanks very much. The three of you have a very good day at work. Again, thank you so very much for stopping. We certainly appreciate it here at CNN.

Once again, Carol, Colleen, just opinions here on the street of New York. We're going to be hearing a lot of them this morning and throughout the day. Back to you in Atlanta.

LIN: You bet. Thanks so much, Jason.

Well, perhaps a very different opinion, though, for the people who voted for Congressman Gary Condit. His constituents will be watching tonight and what are they hoping to see?

Well, joining us by telephone is John Kanno. He hosts a weekly TV-talk radio show in the congressman's home district.

Good morning, John.


LIN: All right, we got a hold of this letter that Gary Condit is sending off to his constituents. I imagine you're going to be one of those people. And in part of the letter he writes a very personal note. He says, "I have known so many of you for a long time. You know me to be hard working, committed to our issues," and then he says, "dedicated to my community and my family." How are people who vote in his district going to perceive that statement?

KANNO: Well, let me just correct the first statement that you made. I'm -- it's on television, not radio.

LIN: Oh, OK, thanks, John.

KANNO: But that's -- but that's OK.

The -- actually his constituents have been very supportive of him. He has been a hands-on type congressman in the local district. He's always -- people know him as Gary. They don't know him as Congressman Condit. You know, Gary is one of the people. When he does the Condit days, Condit country, they go there to see him.

Now as far as this letter, I've not seen it yet, but I think what he needs to do is come out. And I think he doesn't need to portray himself as a victim because that is going to drastically backfire on him and could possibly cost him the election next year if he decides to run. And as it stands right now, we know he's going to run.

LIN: Well, what are you hearing from people though? What do they want to know from their congressman?

KANNO: A lot of people want to know why it took so long for him to actually come out and make a -- do an interview with media. And a lot of people are even criticizing him for that saying he should have come to his local constituents first and addressed them because they're the ones that are going to decide his fate next year, not the constituents of the United States of America.

LIN: Are they going to be bothered at all if Congressman Gary Condit does not come out and make an outright apology for his behavior, for his relationship with this 24-year-old missing woman?

KANNO: I think people want to hear the apology and he's going to have to be very apologetic in that -- in that part of this whole investigation. But I don't think we're going to hear anything tonight in 30 minutes that we haven't heard from -- during the five or six hours, seven hours of police investigations. So I mean from a P.R. move, I think it's -- you know he has to come out and say something. People want to hear what Gary Condit sounds like outside of his district.

LIN: Do they want him to sound sorry? Do they want him to sound defiant? Do they want him to -- you know, I don't know, talk more about his family than about his legal or political problems?

KANNO: Well, I think he doesn't need to -- this definitely does not need to be a campaign-type speech. He absolutely -- it's imperative that he addresses the problems that have been facing him over the last three months.

Now we don't know what has been said to the police or what has not been said to the police. There's been a lot of discrepancies in the stories, and I think tonight some of the focus of the questioning should be aimed at those discrepancies. You know, for example, why did it take you to the third interview to admit the affair? Well, that's all we have heard through the media. The 20 or so phone calls that were made by Chandra the day before she disappeared.

LIN: So, John, when Congressman Gary Condit writes here, "I invited the police to my apartment, I asked the FBI to help, Chandra's father called me and asked for my help, and despite my best attempts to help police find Chandra, some in the media have criticized me for remaining silent." Does this sound like a man who feels sorry for himself and is that going to fly with constituents?

KANNO: This -- see -- the thing is there's always a third of the people that will always vote for Gary Condit no matter what, a third of the people will never vote for him. This third that's left is the critical part of this solution to his reelection next year and they're the ones that he has to convince in tonight's show or within the letter that he has sent out to some of the constituents. I think -- I believe there's 250,000 letters that have been sent.

LIN: You've got a higher number than we do, but go ahead.

KANNO: OK. Well, I -- from my understanding it was about -- I had heard 200,000, then I had heard 250,000 and there's about 800,000 people in his constituency. So it's roughly a third of what's left so it's going to be close. It's going to be interesting to see what the response is going to be tomorrow morning.

But like I say, 30 minutes of an interview by Connie Chung, I don't think is going to be the answer to all of his problems. He has to do a lot more as far as media-type interviews. Oh, we've even offered to do a town hall meeting -- host a town hall meeting for him where his constituents can do a hands-on with him. I mean this is Gary. They know him as Gary Condit. You know they know him as Gary.

LIN: When, John, you touched on something here -- you mentioned something here that has mystified many people outside the Beltway and certainly outside of Gary Condit's home district that there is this core group of people that no matter what this man does, no matter what he says, he's always going to have their vote. I mean what is it about -- or do they know something about Gary Condit we don't know?

KANNO: Well, it's just his constituent services. You can -- there isn't a single person that can call you up or let you know that can say we went into Gary Condit's office and he refused to help or they could not help. They will always try their best and they will go out of their way to help you with any type of problems that you may have that he may be able to help with. So, you know, people -- we've had Gary Condit as a congressman since, what, '89 and...

LIN: So it doesn't matter that he told investigators that he cheated on his wife? It doesn't matter that he may have lied to investigators? It doesn't matter that there are demands for his resignation, that his political career is in jeopardy and that this is, you know, flat out embarrassing, if nothing else?

KANNO: Oh it is. On the contrary, it -- they are bothered about it. They are -- they are coming out strongly and saying, even the people that support him, maybe they won't say it on the air on my show but they are saying it, you know, afterwards. But they are saying he has to come out. He has to come clean with this. We have to know what happened. And I think that's part of the -- that's part of the whole, you know, mystic, if you want to say, about this whole disappearance. This girl, the facts still remain the same that Chandra Levy has still been missing for three-and-half months. And the focus -- you have to admit the focus has been on a married congressman having an affair with an intern.

LIN: John Kanno, thank you very much for joining us this morning by telephone. I'm sure you're going to be watching tonight in prime- time television when Gary Condit has his second opportunity to speak out.

MCEDWARDS: And maybe you're asking what you would ask if you had the chance to do that interview or be there for it. Send us your thoughts, if you would, to Tell us what would you ask Gary Condit. We'll get those comments on the air.

Also stay with CNN for a special report tonight. We are going to go in-depth on reaction to Congressman Condit's interview. That is tonight at 11:00 Eastern.



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