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Anne Marie Smith to Petition for Criminal Indictment Against Gary Condit

Aired August 27, 2001 - 12:30   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.
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, GUEST HOST: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

I'm Cynthia Alksne, sitting in for Roger and Greta today.

Late last week, California Congressman Gary Condit broke his public silence on the Chandra Levy investigation. The high-stakes media push seems to be backfiring, both politically and legally.

In less than one hour, the attorney for flight attendant Anne Marie Smith will hold a news conference in Modesto, California. He will be joining us here in a moment. James Robinson says he'll go to a civil grand jury and seek to have Condit, the congressman's chief of staff, and his investigator indicted.

Smith claims she had a year-long affair with the congressman and that he asked her to sign an affidavit denying the relationship. But Condit says the two never had an affair. On ABC, he accused Smith of taking -- quote -- "advantage of this tragedy."

Here are his comments regarding Smith during an interview with CNN affiliate KOVR television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JODI HERNANDEZ, KOVR REPORTER: Anne Marie Smith has gone public, done numerous interviews. She stated in one of the interviews that you called her and told her that you were in trouble and that you may have to disappear for a while.

REP. GARY CONDIT (R), FLORIDA: That never occurred. And you have to question Anne Marie Smith's motives. Her motive is to sell a story to a tabloid. That's what she did. And for you to embrace that as just a regular news story is a little bit questionable to me.

HERNANDEZ: I'm trying to set the record straight here. You're saying that that in fact did not...

CONDIT: Did not occur.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALKSNE: Jim, tell us about the lawsuit that you are filing this morning.

JAMES ROBINSON, ATTORNEY FOR ANNE MARIE SMITH: It's actually not a lawsuit. We're actually going to a committee of the grand jury itself. It's a citizens committee whereby a citizen can directly go to a grand jury and request an indictment, a criminal indictment. It's unique to California. And that's what we're here to do today.

ALKSNE: So I understand this correctly, you are going to go to the criminal grand jury ask and them to indict without going to the district attorney's office?

ROBINSON: That's correct. That's absolutely correct.

ALKSNE: But are you going to the criminal grand jury or a civil grand jury?

ROBINSON: Criminal grand jury.

ALKSNE: My understanding is, you are filling out a form, a citizen complaint form. Is that right?

ROBINSON: That's correct.

ALKSNE: Can you tell us about that?

ROBINSON: That is -- every county in California has a process, a citizen complaint process to the foreman of a grand jury and request a criminal indictment. And that's what we intend to do.

We also do intend to meet with the DA later today ask the DA to join with us in this request for a criminal indictment. But it is not necessary.

ALKSNE: All right. So you are going to go to -- it is an important distinct between making your citizen complaint to a civil grand jury or a criminal grand jury.

ROBINSON: Right.

ALKSNE: You are going to a criminal grand jury and fill this form out? Is that right?

ROBINSON: Yes.

ALKSNE: And then, what the form says is -- exactly what? What exactly have you written on that form?

ROBINSON: We are stating that three individuals have violated two criminal acts in the state of California. We are stating that Mike Lynch, Don Thornton and Congressman Condit, all three have conspired to suborn perjury and obstruct justice, which are both felonies in the state California.

ALKSNE: And then you asked them to do exactly what? Can they do an indictment without ever going through the DA's office?

ROBINSON: That's correct. They do not need to go through the DA's office at all.

ALKSNE: Has this ever happened before?

ROBINSON: They can also -- yes, it has happened.

ALKSNE: In California, has this ever happened?

Because my experience -- I was a DA and a prosecutor. Nobody ever did this before. I've never heard of this before. In California, have you -- your research says whether or not it happened?

ROBINSON: Yes. I -- Sterling Norris, who was a district attorney in Los Angeles, is local counsel on this. I approached him about two weeks ago. He did the research. And we decided to go forward this morning.

ALKSNE: OK.

Now, Mr. Norris is associated with -- now with Judicial Watch. Is that right?

ROBINSON: Yes, he is.

ALKSNE: And are you -- can you tell us about your relationship with Judicial Watch in this lawsuit or in this complaint?

ROBINSON: I was looking for a criminal attorney in California, as you can well imagine, to assist me. I'm a Washington state attorney. I'm not a criminal attorney at all myself. I'm a civil attorney from Washington state.

I was looking to associate with an experienced criminal attorney in California. I have no previous relationship with Judicial Watch whatsoever. They offered their help. I'm thankful for their help. They did a great job. And here we are.

ALKSNE: OK.

Let me turn now to Mr. Gansler. We have with us the states attorney -- a states attorney in Montgomery County and an experienced prosecutor.

What is your -- how do you react to this type of a lawsuit?

DOUG GANSLER, FORMER ASST. U.S. ATTY: I think they are going to have two problems. The first major hurdle is, we've gone now 100 years away from the idea of private citizens bringing public criminal complaints against other citizens.

That's why we have prosecutors. Prosecutors enjoy prosecutorial discretion. And this type of action completely undermines that discretion. Prosecutors are independent. They need to stay above political partisan fray, which obviously groups such as Judicial Watch, that have political agendas, we want to keep them aside from the moral, ethical and strategic decisions of prosecutor. The second problem they're going to have is the actual crime they are trying to attack here, which is perjury and obstruction of justice. For those crimes to occur, you actually need a criminal investigation. Nobody, for whatever reason, has determined this case to be a criminal investigation or that there's a crime. So, by definition, you couldn't obstruct justice.

ALKSNE: Well, give us a practical outlook. Have you ever had a case like this? And do you think this will work?

GANSLER: There are many states, including Maryland, where citizens can go to a grand jury or to a commissioner and say: I would like to swear out a complaint against somebody.

But the prosecutor, ultimately, has to prosecute the case. And they still maintain that discretion to either prosecutor or not prosecute. This sounds like a very bizarre procedural way of doing things.

ALKSNE: Mr. Robinson, what do you think your chances of success are?

GANSLER: Well, I mean, if you look at the polls that came out on Friday, I believe that the district attorney is going to see which way the wind is blowing and go along with this. And we hope that he does.

ALKSNE: OK, well, independent of the...

GANSLER: We're doing this...

ALKSNE: Independent of the polling, Jim, what about the legal analysis that you've done? Do you think you have a reasonable chance of success?

GANSLER: Well, let me say this about -- and I want to address the issue of Judicial Watch. This is my action, Cynthia. This is not Judicial Watch's action. I'm the attorney on this. I made the decision to do it this way. This is my shot. This is not Judicial Watch's shot.

ALKSNE: OK.

We will be back with more of Mr. Robinson and more discussion of Congressman Gary Condit's media blitz when we return.

Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

On this day in 1997, White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal sued Internet writer Matt Drudge for defamation. The $30 million suit challenged Drudge's story alleging Blumenthal had concealed a history of spousal abuse.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALKSNE: Last week, the nation watched ABC's Connie Chung aggressively question Gary Condit about missing intern Chandra Levy. But the congressman refused to discuss details of his relationship with her.

"Newsweek's" Michael Isikoff sat down with Condit on Friday for nearly two hours. Did he have better luck? From New York, we're joined by Lisa DePaulo, a reporter with "Talk" magazine -- here in Washington, Brian Jones (ph), Dan Klaidman, the Washington bureau chief for "Newsweek" magazine, and Montgomery County states attorney Doug Gansler.

Mr. Klaidman, let's start with you. What did you learn -- what did "Newsweek" learn in this interview that we didn't know already?

DAN KLAIDMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Well, Gary Condit talked a little bit more fulsomely about the relationship that he had with Chandra Levy. He used the interview I think to try to repair some of the damage from the earlier television interviews he gave, which I think were roundly criticized.

And even his own handlers were -- thought it was disaster, basically. And so when he started the interview, he had essentially a prepared statement that he was supposed to have made in the Connie Chung interview, but got flustered and forgot to make it. So he said that his heart goes out to the Levy family and that he is pained and saddened by the course of events.

And he struggled to keep his emotions in check. I talked to Isikoff right after the interview, when he described the interview as an emotional roller coaster for Condit. He began trying to strike this note of -- a more conciliatory note. And by the end of the interview, he was lashing out left and right at the media, continuing to sound evasive. And so it remains to be seen whether he did himself -- was able to repair the damage -- I think probably not.

ALKSNE: What did he say about his relationship with Anne Marie Smith?

KLAIDMAN: Well, that's one area where he realized that he had to try to deal with some of the damage from the Connie Chung and the other television interview that he did.

When he was asked about the relationship by Mike Isikoff, he was positively Clintonesque. I mean, he said, basically, he doesn't believe they had a relationship. She may have believed they had a relationship. It depends on how you define relationship. But he also tried to sort of back down from the comments he had made in the previous interviews about Anne Marie Smith making these allegations because she had some kind of a financial interest. He said it was hearsay. He couldn't necessarily back it up.

ALKSNE: Jim, on that point, are you considering a slander lawsuit against Condit for the things he said about Anne Marie Smith taking money from the tabloids? ROBINSON: Well, as you know, that's absolutely false. She did not take any money from any tabloids. Her roommates sold her out.

Cynthia, she's now got two jobs to try to make ends meet. She didn't make any money from anybody. I've got a three-year statute of limitations. This is something I do know about. I am a civil attorney. But I don't want to give him the satisfaction to sue him for money damages right now and have him say that: Aha, she's out after my money now.

I'm not going to do it. We are here to try to get a criminal indictment against the guy.

ALKSNE: Doug, when it comes to a slander case, do you think the fact that he says something that may be potentially slanderous on one day, and the next day he backs down and says, "No, oops, I didn't really mean to say that," what does that do to any potential slander case?

GANSLER: Well, in terms of the slander case, it would be a question of what sort of the damages were in the initial statement. In terms of any criminal case, I think it would have some sort of a consciousness of guilt aspect to it.

Again, that wouldn't be obstruction of justice. That would not be perjury. But if and when there were a criminal case involving the congressman, this is the type of evidence that could be used.

ALKSNE: Right.

Lisa, I want to bring you in here. Have you read the "Newsweek" article, and do you have comments?

LISA DEPAULO, "TALK": Oh, I thought it was particularly revealing. And he does start off with this, "Oh, I feel so heartbroken for the Levys." But a couple of paragraphs later, he is dumping on them again. He's still calling Linda Zamsky a liar. He's still calling Anne Marie Smith a flake and a liar.

But I did find one thing refreshing about this one. He dumped on Billy Martin. And, usually, he just trashes women.

(LAUGHTER)

ALKSNE: Were there any other surprises for you besides his gender-bashing chain?

DEPAULO: Yes. Right.

Well, there was a really revealing exchange at one point where Isikoff asked him: Well, what was the second last time you saw Chandra before this April 24 or 25 surprise visit?

And he says: Oh, a few days before.

And Abbe Lowell jumps in and corrects him and says: Oh, no, no. It was several weeks before.

Well, what is the truth, because that is a really crucial question to have answered. And I thought the fact that his lawyer was correcting his statement was very, very interesting.

ALKSNE: Can you tell us that, Mr. Klaidman? What was setup for this interview? I noticed that there was a very strange, almost 007 sort of secret way you had to meet him in order to do the interview. And I take it -- can you tell us about the setup and what was required?

KLAIDMAN: Yes. There was some sort of cloak-and-dagger atmosphere. Isikoff was told that he would have to be at a certain place at 1:15. He would be picked up, an unmarked car. It was a Condit...

ALKSNE: Was he allowed to bring his I.D.?

(LAUGHTER)

KLAIDMAN: It was a Condit staffer who picked him up. They drove some distance. He was checking his rearview mirror to see if he was being followed.

At one point, he pulled into the parking lot of a funeral home, thinking that he might have been followed. It turned out they weren't being followed. And they proceeded to this safe house -- basically, an apartment of one of the staffers where were Condit had been hanging out. And they did the interview there.

But it all added to this kind of sort of strange end-of-summer weirdness in this whole case. You know, we have all become so obsessed with the case, here's this backbench congressman, sort of third-tier guy, not really that important, and the fate of the republic does not really hang on this case. And we tried to sort of make that...

ALKSNE: And it's a good thing, too, isn't it?

KLAIDMAN: ... make that point in the piece this week, approach it with a little bit of ironic attachment.

ALKSNE: Right. Good for you.

Up next: Are the congressman and his staff getting the best advice?

Stay with us. We'll talk more about it after the break.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Which radio talk show host was released from prison on this day in 1977?

A: G. Gordon Liddy was released from prison in 1977 after serving four years for his involvement in the Watergate conspiracy. (END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALKSNE: In the early days of the Chandra Levy investigation, the staff of Congressman Condit put out misleading statements about his relationship with the former intern.

According to Condit's attorney, the California lawmaker never authorized the staff to do so. On NBC's "Meet the Press," Abbe Lowell said -- quote -- "Congressman Condit did not tell his staff to go out and lie." Congressman Condit did not authorize those statements to be made. Those staff people spoke about what they hoped was the truth and what they thought was the truth.

Doug Gansler, what do you think about that? What do you think about the staff members essentially being hung out to dry?

GANSLER: Well, that is something that the staff and Congressman Condit have to work out. I think that Abbe Lowell is an incredibly accomplished lawyer and has done a very good job in spinning the case. And, of course, it depends on what perspective you take in terms of the congressman's actual involvement in the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

But in terms of the staff, it is going to be difficult to show that they've done anything criminal, because in terms of the criminal side of things, they would have to have actual knowledge that they were lying and impeding an actual investigation. So while they may have broken some sort of House ethics or loyalty issues with the congressman, they're not going to be in any criminal trouble. But at any point, the congressman could have retracted those statements publicly and chose not to do so.

ALKSNE: Right.

How about you, Lisa? What is your take?

DEPAULO: Two things.

Abbe Lowell would like to us to believe that these people went out on their own, told these lies, and the minute Congressman Condit realized what was going on, he yanked them off, as Abbe Lowell said. Well, you know what? They were out there 2 1/2 months telling these lies.

So it took Congressman Condit quite a long time to figure out that these people were putting out the wrong information. I also think it is really stupid to alienate or dis these staff members. Who knows what they know about Gary Condit?

ALKSNE: That is sort of an interesting point about it. And it leads us into: Where does this investigation go next? Let's go around the horn. And I'm going to ask everybody that.

Jim Robinson, you first -- where do you think we are going next? You are going to have your lawsuit. What is your turnaround time on your complaint to the grand jury?

ROBINSON: I will tell you what I would like to have next.

Everybody says, "What did you think of the Connie Chung interview?" I will tell you, I wish that that was a grand jury interview, because he couldn't have given those answers. They would have taken him away in handcuffs. I mean, let's issue an indictment -- excuse me -- let's issue a subpoena from the grand jury and have Congressman Condit -- this is his district. This is the jurisdiction of interest.

Let's bring him down here and have him answer those same questions in front of a grand jury. He

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: ... have to answer them this time.

ALKSNE: But don't you think would he take the Fifth Amendment in a heartbeat?

ROBINSON: Yes, that's my point. That's my point. He's going to have to take the Fifth Amendment. And that says a whole lot to a whole lot of people.

ALKSNE: OK. So what -- let's go back to the initial question. What do you think happens next in the lawsuit, since probably a grand jury, Fifth Amendment is not the very next thing.

What is next? What is happening in this investigation?

ROBINSON: Well, we are meeting with DA this afternoon. We're filing. And the next is probably up to the Condit camp. I expect them to come out swinging. And so far, they have missed with every swing they have made in this case.

ALKSNE: How about you, Mr. Klaidman? What do you think is next?

KLAIDMAN: Well, one thing that I don't think is next is a criminal indictment -- at least criminal indictments that will be sustained in courts of law.

I think that the affidavit -- the proposed affidavit is -- there was markings, comments on the top of it that said: If there are any mistakes here, correct them.

I think that makes it difficult for -- certainly, the federal -- the U.S. attorney's office here to make a case. I don't know as much about this case in California. But I think it is going to be tough. Another thing I don't think you are going to see are more Gary Condit interviews any time soon.

ALKSNE: You can take that

(CROSSTALK) KLAIDMAN: And, finally -- finally, just picking up on what Lisa said before about Condit and his lawyer alienating the staff, I think that's exactly right. And my suspicion is, we are going to start hearing more, albeit anonymously, from people close to Gary Condit.

ALKSNE: Lisa, I'll give you the last word because we are running out of time.

DEPAULO: Well, I sure hope what happens next is a lot more Condit interviews, because every time he opens his mouth, he digs himself in deeper.

(CROSSTALK)

ALKSNE: We have got time for another last word. I love this -- Doug.

GANSLER: Well, he digs himself in deeper, politically, but not necessarily in terms of the legal battles. I think -- I agree that it's very unlikely they will get any traction from a criminal indictment at this point.

They need to find actual evidence involving some involvement of his with the disappearance of Chandra Levy before any criminal indictment is brought down.

ALKSNE: That's all the time we have for today. Thank you to our guests and thank all of you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": more discussion on the fallout from Gary Condit's interviews, both legally and politically. Send your e- mail and comments to Bobbie Battista and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

Join us again for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.

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