The Panel: Can Rep. Gary Condit Say Anything To Help His Position?

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This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, August 22, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

BRIT HUME, HOST: Some insights now from Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Jeff Birnbaum, Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine, and Juan Williams, host of Talk of the Nation on National Public Radio, Fox News contributors all.

Well, we now know that Gary Condit, based upon this letter that he has sent to constituents, according to the emphatical Rita Cosby, is not prepared to acknowledge in this current round of disclosures and interviews that he had an affair with Chandra Levy.

Jeff, what are we to make of that?

JEFF BIRNBAUM, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Well, it sounds like a terrible mistake.

The -- it's been reported now for weeks that Condit finally fessed up to investigators that he did have a -- a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy. It took three interviews for him to do it.

But if he doesn't come clean with his own constituents on this very basic issue, you have to question his credibility in general, and his credibility is really what's in question in these interviews.

HUME: Just -- on that -- on that point, let's take a look at The Modesto Bee, his hometown newspaper, which, without knowing this, commented on what needed to happen in the interview in an editorial this very day. Let's see what...

"Condit," said The Modesto Bee editor, "must explain why he lied to the public about his actions, why he deceived the police about his relationship with a missing former intern, why he ducked his constituents for almost four months, and why he should be trusted now."

Now that's just a sample from -- from back home.

Juan, what is your sense of -- if he doesn't acknowledge this relationship, what can he accomplish in this interview?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Lied, ducked, and deceived. Quote a record for Mr. Condit there. The paper really is going after him.

Look, what he's going to achieve is what he's going to achieve on the cover of People magazine. The magazine will have him seated next to his lovely wife and, suddenly, you'll have the image of Gary Condit as an embattled figure, someone who maybe the media has picked on.

Maybe he will appeal that -- you know, he'll bring up references to Richard Jewell, the man who the FBI initially had suspected in the Atlanta Olympic bombing case and later was found not to have been involved. So he will say to them, "This is a matter of trust, and I am the one who has been put upon, not Chandra Levy," which is incredible, for it to even come out of my mouth.

HUME: He's going to say that Chandra Levy should not...

WILLIAMS: Well, he's going to say, "Listen, I've been involved in this thing, and I had nothing to do with Chandra Levy, and look at me and my poor wife, my poor wife who's had all these illnesses and problems, and now you folks in TV and radio and you newspaper people are attacking me without any evidence."

HUME: Will it work, Bill, if that's -- I mean, any statement absent an acknowledgement that we believe police are convinced of and told by him he had?

BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I personally don't care what he acknowledges. I mean, he's lied.


KRISTOL: No, seriously. Why -- he has no credibility in the first place, so the notion that this will further damage his credibility -- he deserves to have no credibility, and my view is people should pay no attention to what he says. People shouldn't watch him on TV, and they should throw away his letter to them unopened.

I mean, seriously, why are we even dignifying this as if -- "Well, if he now is a little bit more forthcoming"...

HUME: But, Bill, remember it did mat -- it did make a difference in the long, torturous course that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment that as each step went by, he didn't acknowledge the facts or he blamed others.

You'll recall -- remember he had the famous statement -- the famous finger-wagging statement, and then in the famous August 19th or whatever it was speech to the nation...

BIRNBAUM: August 17th.

HUME: August 17th. He -- he said a lot less than many people thought he should. It didn't help.

KRISTOL: Right. Right, but the issue with Condit is not whether he had sexual relations with that woman, Chandra Levy. It's whether he was implicated in her disappearance and was forthcoming to the police about her disappearance.

HUME: But he...

KRISTOL: He wasn't forthcoming.

HUME: But his relationship with her is -- the fact that he had a relationship with her is the only reason why we -- why he would even be remotely suspected, isn't it?

BIRNBAUM: Right, but even more...

KRISTOL: No, no, no. Because we now have all kinds of other pieces of evidence to suspect him. He goes and disposes of a watch box two months later. What was in -- why did he have to get rid for that watch box? Was he scared that people would ask where that watch was?

He is a suspect in a criminal investigation. At this point, the notion that he gets something by admitting that he had an affair with this young woman -- I think he deserves to get nothing from that.

BIRNBAUM: No. The -- the relevance of this issue is that he could have helped move the investigation along faster had he told everything he knew and -- and was more forthcoming about what he knew of the woman's state of mind.

KRISTOL: He didn't want to move the investigation along, and...

BIRNBAUM: Yes, I know! And he...

KRISTOL: ... because he doesn't want the truth to come out.

BIRNBAUM: Well, if he doesn't want the truth to come out, then his -- his political career is over. He has one chance this -- these couple days here where he has a chance to say, "I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I had this relationship with this woman, and I have done wrong. Please forgive me." That's what he should say, but I...

KRISTOL: Well...

BIRNBAUM: ... but, apparently, he's not willing to say any of those things, and he will be penalized because of it, if he persists in that way...

WILLIAMS: Well, it's...

BIRNBAUM: ... with what we know.

WILLIAMS: It's a matter of political strategy, to -- to respond to what Bill Kristol was saying. Nobody -- I mean, I think everyone thinks Bill Martin, the lawyer -- everybody says he -- he's a suspect, except for the D.C. police who still are reluctant to give him that title.

HUME: Well, that's a technical term that has to do with the fact that they haven't found a body, isn't it?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's right, and they -- I think they still want to have access to him, and the minute they would deem him a suspect, then his lawyer would cut off all access.

HUME: Then he lawyers up.


WILLIAMS: I see you've been around in the police department. Yeah, that's exactly right.

So for -- it is a matter of politics here. It's a matter of political strategizing in terms of how he presents himself with Connie Chung, in terms of what he said in that letter to the constituents, and how the People interview comes, which will sort of reinforce everything that's done on TV.

HUME: Bill, I understand the force of your point about all of this, but -- but do you argue that, as a matter of politics, that it makes no difference whether he acknowledges this relationship or not.

KRISTOL: I don't know. I -- I think he's finished. I don't think acknowledging the relationship and then having to explain the cover-up will do him much good, and maybe he's better off just pretending that -- I don't know -- nothing ever happened and, you know, just trying to draw the wool over people's eyes.

BIRNBAUM: No. I think -- I think the complete -- the complete opposite. He has a chance of some...

KRISTOL: He has no chance.

BIRNBAUM: He has...

KRISTOL: I totally disagree.

HUME: Gentlemen, I think you've reached an impasse on that point.


HUME: I think no agreement is possible.

WILLIAMS: I agree with you.

HUME: Juan and I agree on that, and Juan and I will now close this segment. .

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