Lawyer: Condit Should Stay on Panel

Rep. Gary Condit has served honorably on the security-conscious House Intelligence Committee, and the spotlight shone on him in the case of missing intern Chandra Levy actually could be a plus in that assignment, his lawyer says. 

``Everything about him is out there. He's probably the person on the Intelligence Committee who can't be blackmailed anymore,'' attorney Abbe Lowell said Sunday on NBC's ``Meet the Press.''

``If it's not punitive for some reason, there's no good reason'' for the California Democrat to leave the committee, Lowell said. ``He's served very well. His colleagues will tell you.''

Condit's fate on the panel was questioned after House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., criticized him for failing to be ``candid and forward'' in an ABC interview Thursday about his relationship with Levy, a Bureau of Prisons intern who disappeared four months ago.

Asked repeatedly if he had a sexual affair with Levy, 24, the 53-year-old married congressman said only they'd had a ``very close'' relationship. He offered no apologies for his involvement with Levy or for his level of cooperation with police.

Gephardt on Friday characterized Condit's answers as ``disturbing and wrong,'' and said he would talk to House Democrats about possible action against Condit, including his removal from the intelligence panel.

Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., said Sunday that Gephardt ``has an obligation that's inherent to his responsibilities to immediately remove'' Condit.

Service on the committee ``requires very high integrity,'' McInnis said on CNN's ``Late Edition.'' ``Certainly, any kind of indication that someone has not been forthcoming or truthful when put under pressure should not be in charge or sitting on the committee that oversees central intelligence and our spy networks throughout the world.''

On ``Fox News Sunday,'' Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., called Condit's behavior ``embarrassing'' but said ``there's nothing that we can do in the Congress. Unless there is something to take before the ethics committee, I don't see how we can do anything.''

Later, on CNN, Rangel added: ``What is it that we could possibly charge him with in the ethics committee? Not one thing.''

Lowell asked that Gephardt consider comments Condit made in other media interviews last week before determining any possible action.

Asked by Newsweek what message he would have liked to have relayed during the ABC interview, Condit said he would have made it clear ``how disheartened and heartbroken I am that it's been four months and we haven't been able to find Chandra.''

``I would have liked to have been able to make a statement about that. The other thing was the Levys — my heart goes out to the Levys. I have a tremendous amount of empathy for them.''

Condit responded to a Newsweek question about whether he was sorry by saying: ``Well, some people aren't hurt and some people are, so for the people I hurt, I'm sorry. That's how I qualify it. It's basically all I can say.''

Asked if anyone from the Republican White House had spoken to him about the situation, the lawmaker said yes, but no advice was offered. ``A pat on the back or hang in there,'' Condit described it.

He was asked if it was because the White House view him as a potential ally in the House. ``Right. I still am,'' the conservative Democrat said.

Some Republicans have said, however, that Condit should resign from office because they said he has not fully cooperated with authorities searching for Levy.

Condit's constituents in central California were split on whether he should resign from Congress, according to poll published Sunday in his hometown newspaper, The Modesto Bee. Six of 10 surveyed said they approve of the job he is doing in Congress.

In a national poll by CNN-USA Today-Gallup, three-fourths said they believe Condit is immoral and nearly that many — seven in 10 — say he lied during his ABC interview.