The Condit Games - July 11, 2001
Washington is a town of many games, where the stakes are high and the outcome is never routine. In the Gary Condit cat-and-mouse match-up, the sport is being played by the masters.
The term "suspect" has been bandied about by investigators and lawyers alike. All insist that Condit is not now, nor ever has been, considered one. Yet each side has distinct strategic reasons for the assertion.
Condit forces are using the non-suspect label to remind the public that the congressman is not under suspicion of criminal behavior with respect to Chandra Levy's disappearance. The police are using the non-suspect designation so that Condit will not resort to the invocation of the rights and privileges available to a criminal defendant, and will continue to cooperate.
The police have requested that Condit submit to a lie detector test, undergo a search of his D.C. condo and provide a sample of his DNA. Condit has agreed, despite his embrace of the non-suspect classification. Still, DNA analyses, lie detector tests and home searches are not the types of activities typically associated with non-suspects, no matter what the spin.
Another phrase frequently being lobbed across the national news field is "criminal investigation." Both sides indicate that there is not one going on. What we are seeing is merely part of a missing-person inquiry.
But one has to wonder whether any other criminal investigation within the same jurisdiction is being allocated an equal amount of time, investigative effort or resources. Certainly no other criminal case currently has the same level of exposure or the equivalent involvement of a high-profile government official. For not being a criminal investigation, it sure is acting like one.
In regard to Condit's role in the whole fiasco, the nature of the association between Gary Condit and Chandra Levy has been a primary focus of the media. Ever since Condit belatedly admitted that he did indeed have a sexual relationship with Levy, the congressman's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, has insisted that this tidbit of information would have had no real bearing on the investigative process.
The police and the FBI apparently have a different opinion, based upon their investigatory behavior and stated perspectives. Knowledge of whether or not there had been an intimate relationship would have had a major impact on how they would have proceeded during the crucial early days.
The affidavit intended for flight attendant Anna Marie Smith, which was e-mailed to her attorney and essentially asked her to testify in what she claims to be a false manner, brings up the specter of potential criminal charges against Condit.
But the pertinent statute requires that in order for the crimes of obstruction of justice or witness tampering to have occurred, they must be associated with an "official proceeding." Although an investigation of a missing person might arguably be such an official proceeding, in a criminal matter the accompanying burden of proof makes these sorts of charges difficult to successfully prosecute.
Now when it comes to analyzing the politics of the situation, we must keep in mind that the games played thus far have been in the regular season. We are still leading up to the ultimate playoffs, where the question will be: Will Gary Condit survive?
Many have already declared his political career dead. This would be true in a more ethically consistent era. But these are post-Barney Frank, Bill Clinton, Marion Barry times. Condit is a seven-term congressman from an extremely loyal district. He won his last election with 87 percent of the vote and no major-party opposition. He had an equally decisive victory against a Republican in a prior election, where he ended up with 66 percent of the vote.
If you don't believe it's possible for this politician to salvage his career, just picture this. The DNA results, the lie detector test and the condo search come up blank. Condit schedules a press conference. Every camera crew and reporter in the nation rushes to the scene. Condit, who already has experience on film, gives a passionate rendition of his carefully prepared statement. He's on the verge of tears and expresses his regret for any delay in acknowledging his true relationship with Chandra. He professes his deepest remorse and pledges to dedicate all of his energies toward bringing about her safe return.
In this period where the affective reigns supreme, Condit's popularity could conceivably lift his stature to heights never before enjoyed. For the sake of the reputation, governing principles and moral underpinnings of our nation, let us all perish the thought.