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Panel Discusses Gary Condit's Future in Government

Aired September 5, 2001 - 22:00   ET




SUSAN LEVY, MOTHER OF CHANDRA LEVY: We wake up and we have tears and mornings are most tough, getting up in the morning, and we just hope and pray that my daughter comes home, that she is alive. We try to keep hope and faith.

ROBERT LEVY, FATHER OF CHANDRA LEVY: And we just want to find her and find out what happened.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We have heard those pleas before, Bob, but what was interesting was what was not said in Modesto. How important was that?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were given the opportunity of course to speak about Congressman Condit. I did ask a question or two about that. The only response was no comment, we don't want to talk about that. The reason is, they are under strict orders from the public relations and legal people they've assembled in Washington and here not to talk about that.

So much damage is being done to Condit's reputation they believe by the interviews he did, that nothing he could say could worsen a situation for somebody who they believe needs to, in fact, be called to account.

HEMMER: All right, Bob, hang on there in Modesto. Now to our panel tonight, the aforementioned panel. What's next for Gary Condit?

Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider is in Washington. Congressional correspondent Kate Snow is on Capitol Hill, Amy Walter, a political analyst and house for the "Cook Political Report," and once again, Bob Franken live in Modesto.

Amy, first to you. You say you are sick and tired of this story. Hour and a half months down the road we are still talking about it.

AMY WALTER, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Yes it is the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? We can't seem to get enough and I think part of it is that it is the summertime and there was not a lot out there, so in a vacuum something has to fill it.

I don't know how much longer this story is going to be able to continue. The fact of the matter is Congress is back in session. I think that by the time they start to tackle really important things like the appropriations process and the budget, the fact that the Middle East is obviously in serious peril, this story may just end up on the back burner.

HEMMER: Kate Snow, quickly to you, how was the reception today in Washington for Gary Condit?

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: : Interesting, Bill. As a matter of fact, when he first went to the House floor today, he showed up just around 6:00 Eastern time, I'm told by our producer who was down there on the floor that he was greeted very warmly by all outward appearances. They gave him hugs, he got hand shakes, pats on the back. About 12 different members, most of them from California, other Democrats, also some of the Blue Dogs, a group that he meets with regularly, a group of fiscal conservatives.

All of them greeting him very warmly, but then privately, Bill, we are still hearing the same sorts of things, that people are concerned about him, that they are disappointed with his public appearances. Mr. Gephardt, the leader of the Democrats, echoing again his statements today, that he's disappointed and he's going to look into further action.

HEMMER: Bill Schneider, to you now, can this interview tonight that we heard, can it change much in this story?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was a very effective interview and I think she was his most effective defender because she is about Chandra Levy's age. She was very poised for someone who has never been on any television show before.

And I thought she made a couple of very important points that she could really make. One was the really Gary Condit is the one I know. All these people are talking about him, but they don't know him. I do. And second of all, she said, we are his family and we have no problem with this. All these revelations don't bother us. It's not a problem. Why should you.

HEMMER: Back with more from our panel momentarily and we will hear from two members of Congress tonight: Republican Bob Barr of Georgia and Democrat Rob Andrews of New Jersey. That is when our special report: What is ahead for Gary Condit continues in a moment here.



CADEE CONDIT, GARY CONDIT'S DAUGHTER: This has been horrible. I mean it's just absolutely the worst thing to watch your mom and dad be demonized by the press. It's just been absolutely horrible.

LARRY KING, HOST: Do you put any blame on your dad?


KING: None at all?

CONDIT: No, none at all.


HEMMER: Cadee Condit with CNN's Larry King this evening. For our continuing discussion we turn to our panel: In Modesto, CNN's Bob Franken is standing by. Also, Bill Schneider in Washington. Kate Snow is there as well. And from the "Cook Political Report" Amy Walter is with us.

Amy, back to your point about the plate being full for Congress right now. Is there a way for the Democratic Party to put Gary Condit at arms length and still get its message out in the middle of this?

WALTER: I think absolutely. The sense that I get from talking to Democratic insiders and polling that they've been doing over the recess, either in their own districts or national polling, is that you, know, quite frankly, people don't know much about what party Gary Condit belongs to.

Of Course they've heard the story, of course they have their opinions about him, but they don't react to it as a Democratic problem. So I don't think this is something that Democrats are going to be burdened with like they were when it was President Clinton. He was the spokesperson for the party. He was sitting in the White House.

I think there was certainly much more weight to those allegations when it was about the president rather than about one member of Congress.

HEMMER: Kate, what about that? Is there a chance Democratic leadership would go to Gary Condit in private, pull him aside and say listen, it's gone on long enough or not?

SNOW: There's always that chance and we probably won't know about it if that happens. A lot of these conversations are happening privately. Dick Gephardt said today, the Democratic leader, that he's going to talk with his colleagues about Gary Condit. He simply doesn't know what, if anything, they ought to do to try do get beyond this problem.

One point I wanted to make, Bill, on what Amy was just saying, is although there may not be a sense that he's a Democrat, and this is bad for Democrats, I've heard from many members, Democrats and Republicans, that they're concerned this puts a cast over all of Congress.

I was talking to one Democrat today who said he can't even fly back home on a plane without the person next to him saying, oh do you know that Condit guy? You're all like him, aren't you? I mean that's the sense.

HEMMER: We are going get the sense also from two members of the House in a second on that very issue, Kate, but Bob Franken, you know Capitol Hill as well as anybody and you also know the politicians who threw Gary Condit under the bus several weeks ago. Is there more to come out of California, or is the worst over at this point?

FRANKEN: Well, it's hard to tell. Every time that we have decided this story is over it seems to resurface. Now I'm going speak with the advantage here of being outside the beltway, albeit temporarily, and I have to say from this perspective I think that it's very, very obvious that people really don't pay attention to the minutia of budget debate, education debate, they don't.

It's a real shock to those of us who actually live inside the beltway. They do pay attention to the Gary Condit story and not because it's a congressional story, but for all the reasons we could probably spell out.

HEMMER: And as you're giving that comment, Bill Schneider is shaking his head in agreement aren't you, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: There are mystery here. That is why people are paying attention. Not only is it a human interest story, but there is the mystery of what happened to Chandra Levy, and also the subsidiary mystery, which the press has focused on, what explains Gary Condit's very strange behavior?

Was he more interested in hiding his private affair with this woman than in finding Chandra Levy? It's mysterious behavior and he's come forward, his staff, his family, but nobody's really explained that.

HEMMER: Let's continue our discussion now, live from Washington, Republican Representative Bob Barr of Georgia is with us and from Philadelphia, Democratic Representative Rob Andrews of the state of New Jersey. Gentlemen, good evening to both of you.


REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Good evening.

HEMMER: First to Rob Andrews. Tell us more about the stain, possibly, on politicians as the story continues to be drummed up in the media and in newspapers on a day to day basis. How much could that hurt a politician in Washington?

ANDREWS: Well, I think it casts everyone in a negative light and that's a shame. The biggest shame here thought is not the damage that it's done to politicians' reputations. It is the hurt the Levy family has felt, the Condit family has felt. I think the public has a very low opinion of a lot of what goes on in politics. This unfortunately reaffirms that. But I think people are also focusing on the real human tragedy here, which is not politicians having lower approval ratings, but a family that can't find their daughter and is in great distress. HEMMER: House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt had more comments today. Quickly I want to listen those and discuss that.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I don't know what will come of the process but you have to deal with a fair process here. This is not something where I go off and make decisions. I have to talk with my colleagues, talk with the caucus, we have an ethics process in this house that has to be respected. We are going to do these things in the right way.


HEMMER: Dick Gephardt talking about the possibility of removing Gary Condit from a committee or more than one committee. To representative Andrews is that a possibility?

ANDREWS: It's a possibility. There is an issue here...

HEMMER: Should it be done or not?

ANDREWS: Well let me say what I think, Bill, that when it comes to the Intelligence Committee, if there's reason to believe that national security could be in peril because someone could be coerced or leveraged or blackmailed, then yeah, you have to do that. And there's a serious question here as to whether that is the case.

HEMMER: To Bob Barr now, in Washington, what's the future for this man?

BARR: Well, I think at very best, if everything breaks his way from this point forward he will be consigned to the next year and a half until he's defeated or doesn't run for election next year to being utterly irrelevant.

That's not something that his constituents I'm sure would like to see happen. But today, you had also the majority leader, Dick Armey, saying that he really thinks it's now time for serious consideration being given to the Democratic leadership to step forward and remove Mr. Condit from the very, very sensitive and critically important national security, or not national security, but intelligence committee.

And I think you are going to be hearing more and more of that in the coming days.

HEMMER: But it's such a rare and difficult thing to do. I'm going to talk more about it in a moment. I want to get a quick time out though. Bob Barr, Rob Andrews, hang on there in Washington and Philadelphia. Our conversation continues after a short break here.



KING: Concerned about reports that he might be removed from a committee or two, like intelligence?

CONDIT: No, I'm not concerned. My dad's lost committees before and he survived. When he was in the gang of five Speaker Brown took away his committees because Gary stood by his principles, and he's going to continue to stand by his principles and if they take his committees away, they take his committees away.


HEMMER: Cadee Condit again tonight with CNN's Larry King. We are taking about Congressman GARY CONDIT and his return to Washington. Joining us with more, Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, Congressman Rob Andrews, a Democrat of New Jersey. Back to Bob Barr. You are one of the few Republicans who has publicly come forward and publicly criticized Gary Condit. Is this a case for Republicans where it's best to lie back, lay low and be quiet?

BARR: well, of course that's always been the way I've approached public office. Obviously not, but seriously.

HEMMER: That was sarcasm.

BARR: Most members of Congress are like Washington. It's an institution, a city, that likes the status quo. There's great comfort in maintaining the status quo and most members, Democratic and Republican, resist very strongly being pulled off the status quo and this is no exception.

And to be honest with you an awful lot of members, Republican and Democrat, just don't care if somebody's accused of obstruction of justice. That says something about Congress, but that's unfortunately the case.

HEMMER: Representative Andrews, what would you like to see as a member of the Democratic Party? What would you like to see Gary Condit do in order to rectify things as it stands now?

ANDREWS: Bill, a lot of us care about obstruction of justice, we also care about fairness and we care about the right people making the decision. In my judgment, the right people to make the decision about Gary Condit are his constituents, the people in California who sent him to Washington.

What I'd like to see him do is to go back to California, stand in an auditorium in California, and answer any question that any constituent deems worthy to ask him, to stand before his constituents and answer their questions. I think that's our responsibility as a public official. I think if he did that he might be able to put this behind him and move on to other issues.

HEMMER: It's an interesting point and being in public life why do you think this hasn't been done to the this point? Why for the better part of 5 months was there few public meetings with constituents in Modesto or in other parts of the district in California? ANDREWS: I really couldn't answer that. I don't know the legal issues that are before him. I don't know what family considerations are there, but I do know this, that we work for the people who send to us Washington. We work for our constituents and it is my responsibility, it is Bob Barr's responsibility, and it's Gary's responsibility to go before our constituents and answer their questions.

HEMMER: Did either of you gentlemen see Gary Condit tonight?

ANDREWS: I did briefly on the floor, yes.

HEMMER: And did you speak with him?

ANDREWS: I didn't have an opportunity to, but I always do when I have a chance as I would do with any colleague, to say hello.

HEMMER: And Bob Barr, did you see him today?

BARR: No, I did not.

HEMMER: How would you describe, based on talking with other members of the House, his reception coming back to Washington?

BARR: Well, I haven't, I frankly don't spend a lot of my time worrying about it or talking with other members about it. He hangs out with the Democrat Party, as I hang out primarily with my Republican colleagues. So I really don't know. My concern again as it was with President Clinton is not a person's personal behavior, it's not how well they relate to their constituents, it's whether the law is being upheld and I have asked the Ethics Committee to simply begin an inquiry in fairness to Gary, as Rob said, but to begin an inquiry to establish the facts of whether or not obstruction has taken place.

It seems to me that to just sit back and say, oh, the only remedy, when there's evidence of obstruction is to let the constituents decide is really abrogating our responsibility.

ANDREWS: That is not what I said and I do think there should be a process, but I don't think it should be played out on CNN. I think it should be played out under the fair procedure and the due process of the Ethics Committee, and I am confident that it will be.

HEMMER: With that, gentlemen, we have to say thank you. Bob Barr And Rob Andrews thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Back to our panel here as we continue or look at what's ahead for Gary Condit. With us tonight, Bill Schneider is in Washington, so too is Kate Snow on Capitol Hill. Amy Walter, "Cook Political Report," is in Washington as well, and Bob Franken is out there in Modesto, California.

Bob, interesting point Rob Andrews brought up: Why the congressman did not or has not to this point gone before his constituents and spoken publicly about his situation. We saw poll numbers there from voters in that district as little as 25 percent, who said they would vote for Gary Condit if he ran again. Have those numbers stayed in the same area?

FRANKEN: Yes they have. They haven't moved up, which of course would be what he was hoping for. And of course it is interesting that he has not yet gone out and made the speech, that type of thing. That option is always open. Of course he's considering many possibilities including resigning. The one date we are looking for is the one in October, around the 20th, when he's going to be holding his annual fund raiser.

And there's a belief that by then he will have made up his mind and that might when he has his first appearance. By the way, something just happened a moment ago and that was the return of Dr. Robert Levy. He came back to his house here. He was doing his rounds today. He's gone back to his medical practice. He's an oncologist. He came back, as you can see.

He walked away. We made repeated requests for him to come over and discuss the very latest that's going on, but as we mentioned he and his wife, Susan Levy, are under strict orders from their public relations team not -- not -- to talk about this at the moment, while the story is still evolving.

There are conference calls that go on between Modesto and Washington all the time. As they develop, what will be the next strategy to keep very much alive the story of Gary Condit and more importantly the search for Chandra Levy.

HEMMER: Back to Washington and Bill Schneider. Is this a possibility for Gary Condit to go before his constituents and say once again loud and clear what the situation is?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I mean he can do that but I think he's going to have to take questions from his constituents. They are going to have to be able to ask him questions that they want to know about. And that is one of the mysteries. Why hasn't he been more forthcoming with them, not the press, but with his constituents? That's why a lot of people suspect he must be hiding something.

HEMMER: Amy, what do you think? If you had a question to ask him what would be the first on your list?

WALTER: I certainly would go back to the same questions that have been raised here time and time again, but just why this PR strategy that I think anybody who certainly is politically savvy as Gary Condit, somebody who can win elections in a Republican-leaning district, obviously somebody who knows how to be a political person, why you would make the decisions you made in terms of dealing with the press and dealing with the public.

HEMMER: To Kate Snow now.

SNOW: Let's take a step back for one second thought, Bill, because I think, I don't know what Gary Condit's plans were before any of this happened, but I think a lot of congressmen go back to their districts in August over recess and do do town hall meetings.

And if it weren't for the media being around him all the time, that Gary Condit might have well have gone out and made public appearances. It may be partly our fault for following him everywhere that he wasn't able to do that.

HEMMER: And clearly tonight, Cadee Condit was making that point wasn't she, Bill Schneider?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, exactly. In fact, you can see they're trying to portray him as a victim of the media. And that may be effective as long as the story goes on and on and very little is found out. I would be surprised if his colleagues removed him from the Intelligence Committee because that may be why they showed such personal private support for him. He hasn't been convicted, he hasn't been indicted, he's not called a suspect, and they, his colleagues, see him as someone who has really been victimized by the media.

The same thing could happen to them, so there's some sympathy there among his colleagues. And they don't want to set a precedent that you can remove someone from a committee because of suspicion and because of media attacks.

HEMMER: All interesting points, Bill. To Amy Walter, quickly in the 30 seconds we have left here right now, what do you think about what Bill is talking about? Is it less likely that he will be punished in the House at this point?

WALTER: Well I think there's a very important date that we have avoided talking about, but that is December seventh and that is the final day to file as a candidate in California. That date is coming around pretty quickly. So we are talking about decisions that need to be made, Gary Condit is looking at, you know, two or so months to make up his mind about whether he's going to run again.

In which case all this stuff may be moot. And as we all know, it takes a long time to start one of these processes in an Ethics Committee, or removing somebody from a committee, so I think we are looking at a very compressed time frame and I think there's a heck of a lot going in Congress right now that members would much rather deal with than censure one of they're own.

HEMMER: We have covered a lot tonight. We are going to let you guys take a breather. Get a final thought together. We will hear from that final thought when we come back.

Also, a final programming note and the answer in tonight's news quiz in a moment here.




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