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Why Is Gary Condit Suing Dominick Dunne?

This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," February 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Nearly four years after 24-year-old Chandra Levy (search) vanished, her murder is unsolved. Former congressman Gary Condit was never named a suspect in her murder. However, he was questioned by police multiple times, and his apartment was searched. Now Gary Condit (search) has filed an $11 million lawsuit against Vanity Fair writer and crime book author Dominick Dunne (search). I asked Condit's attorney, Lin Wood, why the former congressman is suing Dominick Dunne.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

L. LIN WOOD, ATTORNEY FOR GARY CONDIT: Back in December of 2001, Dominick Dunne went on national radio and television and he told a story that basically accused Gary Condit of frequenting Middle Eastern embassies where he engaged in sexual activity with prostitutes, and during those times, he made it clear that he wanted someone to get rid of Chandra Levy. That conveyed that Gary Condit was involved in her kidnapping and in her murder, that friends of Gary Condit's had her kidnapped, put in an airplane and dropped in the Atlantic Ocean. That's why we're suing him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where, allegedly, besides radio shows, do you claim Dominick Dunne made these statements?

WOOD: He made the statements initially on the Laura Ingraham radio program, a national program. He then commented on the story again on "Larry King Live", on "Entertainment Tonight" and also at a number of private parties where influential members of the media were present.

VAN SUSTEREN: You said that he basically accused and that he conveyed the idea. Did he explicitly say, "Gary Condit did it," or "Gary Condit was complicit or contributed or was an aider and abetter to murder?"

WOOD: He explicitly said that Gary Condit created the atmosphere or the environment that led to her kidnapping and murder. And although he didn't use the precise words that he was a murderer, the gist of his comments was that Gary Condit was involved in the crimes of kidnapping and murder. No doubt about that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. We're now to the deposition or discovery phase of this civil lawsuit. Your client did not appear recently in a videotaped deposition. Why not?

WOOD: Oh, we had depositions scheduled for last week, and Gary Condit was ill, and so we rescheduled those for March. He did testify at length for several hours back in September of last year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Lin, what was the relationship of your client with Chandra Levy?

WOOD: Gary has described that relationship as a friendship, that they were close friends. Beyond that, obviously, I'm not here to speak to the private aspects of my client's life. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to do that. But he certainly has acknowledged a friendship with Chandra Levy.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, the question is whether it was more than that, whether there was a sexual relationship that could be relevant to the discovery. The discovery is wide open. Has that question been asked of your client? And if not, if it is asked of him, is he going to answer it?

WOOD: He was asked questions along those lines back in September. I instructed him at that time not to answer. I think any competent lawyer would first seek guidance from a court before they would allow questioning about private areas of their client's life. We have received some guidelines from the judge. We're going to reconvene the deposition in front of a magistrate judge so that we don't have a fishing expedition, we don't have salacious questions being asked that are irrelevant to the issues in this case.

Congressman Condit is prepared to answer any question that is deemed relevant to the issues in this lawsuit, any question that's deemed relevant. But he's not going to be intimidated by the idea that the defense lawyer for Mr. Dunne wants to somehow threaten him with asking him about his private relationships over the last many years.

VAN SUSTEREN: But here's the thing that's sort of confusing or perplexing, as someone, you know, reading about the case, and I mean, maybe it's the way it's reported, but the suggestion is, is that the former congressman admitted to a sexual relationship. At least, that's the thinking with the police, when he was first interviewed after she disappeared in May, 2001, and that now, for some reason, he's sort of backing off that relationship and now simply calling it a friendship. Is that wrong? Am I incorrect?

WOOD: You are incorrect, Greta. I mean, there are so many misconceptions about Gary Condit and his relationship with Chandra Levy, many, if not most of which were formed based on inaccurate reporting in the media back in the summer of 2001. Gary Condit has consistently said publicly that he was a friend, had a close friendship with Chandra Levy.
That's the extent of his public comments. He also answered every question that was asked of him of the Washington, D.C., police.

Now, you know, I just don't believe that any dignified person would voluntarily go out and answer questions about private areas of their life, such as their sexual life. Gary Condit declined to do so back in the summer of 2001, and I think correctly so, as a matter of principle. He just wasn't going to go out, for entertainment or for the media's desire to hear questions about that, and discus the private areas of his life or of Chandra Levy's life. And I thought he did the right thing.

VAN SUSTEREN: But Lin, I mean, it can be a motive. Depending on the nature of someone's relationship, you know, there can be a motive...

WOOD: A motive for what?

VAN SUSTEREN: For whatever. For dissolving a relationship.

WOOD: Greta, are you suggesting that Gary Condit had a motive to murder Chandra Levy? Because if you are...

VAN SUSTEREN: No, I'm definitely not saying that. I am not saying that. No, no, no. I want it make clear. I'm not saying he did that at all.

WOOD: I know you would not.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK.

WOOD: I wouldn't think you would because, clearly, the Washington, D.C., police have made it clear consistently from the beginning that Gary Condit was not even a suspect with regard to the investigation into Chandra Levy's life.

So yes, you can go out and say, Well, can we come up with a motive, so that we could somehow support a false story that we told on national radio and television? But you're simply manufacturing a motive for a crime that, at least from Gary Condit's perspective, he was not involved in. So it has very, very tenuous relevancy to the issues in the Dominick Dunne case. The Dominick Dunne case is about accusations of involvement in kidnapping and murder. It's not about allegations of sexual misconduct or bad public relations strategy in the summer of 2001. And that's why you have to keep your eye on the ball.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let me just go on the record and make abundantly clear that I was not in any way endorsing or supporting the statements by Dominick Dunne, but simply talking about, you know, the broad issues that people can go into on depositions. I want to make sure that...

WOOD: And I appreciate that. But see, that's the buzzword. I mean, if you use the word "motive", or Dominick Dunne's lawyer uses the word "motive," you know, first, they ought to have a good-faith evidentiary basis for saying, as they say in this lawsuit, that they're going to defend it in part by proving that Gary Condit was involved in the disappearance and murder. That's one of Dominick Dunne's defenses. He has not one shred of evidence because it didn't happen. It's not true.

And so they use that allegation to then talk about motive and to want to try to justify discussions about sex. We're not going to let the jury get off track here. We're going to focus the jury on what this case is all about, murder and kidnapping.

VAN SUSTEREN: And with that, I just want to add one other thing. I agree the term "motive" is sort of a loaded one, and perhaps a poor choice in our discussion. Thank you, Lin. Nice to see you.

WOOD: OK. Always nice to speak with you, Greta.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Dominick Dunne responds to former congressman Gary Condit's lawsuit. What does Dunne say about Chandra Levy's death? And does he think the former congressman is keeping secrets?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - December 2002)

SUSAN LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S MOTHER: I want answers. I know I found my daughter. It wasn't the way we had hoped. But I want the person responsible caught.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne is facing an $11 million lawsuit. Former congressman Gary Condit claims Dunne smeared him by linking him to the unsolved murder of Chandra Levy. I sat down with Dominick Dunne's attorney, Paul Licalsi, to get his side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Did your client accuse Gary Condit of being involved in any fashion with the disappearance and murder of Chandra Levy?

PAUL LICALSI, ATTORNEY FOR DOMINICK DUNNE: Absolutely not, Greta. And we supplied your producer with the statements that Dominick is being sued for. And I would defy anyone to give a fair reading of those statements and to come from that and say, Dunne accused Gary Condit of murder. What the discussion was at that time -- they were talking about various theories of the case at that time, and the specific theory that they were talking about actually exonerated Gary Condit.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what is the exact statement that is at issue in this case?

LICALSI: Well, there was speculation by someone who had spoken to Dominick that this person had information from a gentleman from the Middle East who claimed that Gary Condit was with people he was close to in the Middle East, was complaining about his inability to end his relationship with Chandra Levy, was complaining about -- that he had made promises to her that he couldn't keep and that she was driving him crazy. And the theory was, what was said to Dominick was, those people took it into their own hands and took her away, that Condit did not have criminal liability for that, simply that he complained about his relationship with her and complained about the pressure he was under to the wrong people.

And Laura Ingraham and Dominick -- I could quote you the section -- say, And those other people took it into their own hands. That was the theory that was being discussed. And Dominick also indicated he couldn't vouch for that theory. The person who had told him this theory had changed his story several times. There was no endorsement of this story.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is Dominick prepared to say today that he has no information whatsoever that Gary Condit had anything to do at all with the disappearance of Chandra Levy?

LICALSI: What Dominick has testified to is what he said back on the Larry King show in 2001. He believes that Gary Condit has not told all that he knows about the circumstances.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Is the actual relationship of Gary Condit with Chandra Levy, whether it was a friendship or something more, whether it was a sexual relationship -- is that at all relevant? Do you have to ask Gary Condit that question? And if so, why?

LICALSI: Well, Greta, the point is, the statement that Dominick is being sued about had to do with this theory that Condit was under pressure from Chandra Levy, that he was -- that he was desperate to keep the relationship secret, that he spoke to the wrong persons and that they took it into their own hands. Unfortunately for Mr. Condit, a federal judge has found that once he opens the door to these questions, he has to answer questions, finally about these...

VAN SUSTEREN: But if Dominick isn't even himself endorsing these statements and saying that it was simply a discussion about a hypothetical, about the different theories that were floating, why does that sort of bootstrap the relevance of the actual nature of the relationship between Gary Condit and Chandra Levy?

LICALSI: Because by bringing this action, he has -- Condit has put into issue who really killed Chandra Levy. They can say all they want, that he hasn't been named a suspect, but it is his burden in this case to come forward and convince a jury that he is being open, that he is -- that he should not be under suspicion of this and that he's telling the truth. We still can't get a straight answer out of him and haven't up to now.

There's a big lie at the bottom of this lawsuit, too, aside from what they're saying Dominick said, that I really have to tell you about. And that's that they are claiming that a statement by Dominick in December of 2001, seven months after Chandra disappeared, is what caused Gary Condit to lose the election.

Well, in those seven months, Condit, if he had planned to, could not have systematically destroyed his own reputation better. In August, months before Dominick made his statements, a Gallup poll found that 62 percent of the American people believed that Condit was directly involved in the disappearance, that 75 percent believed he had obstructed the investigation. His hometown newspaper and all the major newspapers in his district called for his resignation. Gray Davis, his political ally for decades, refused to endorse him and criticized his behavior. Dominick Dunne did not do that to Gary Condit. Gary Condit did that to Gary Condit.

VAN SUSTEREN: What it'll boil down to is, though, I guess that we'll be able to find out the exact statements, they'll be presented to the jury, and the jury, after hearing everything, will make a decision whether or not it did libel former congressman Gary Condit and whether or not it's worth any damages.

LICALSI: Absolutely. And we're eager to have that chance with the jury.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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