Will the House Investigate Condit?

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, July 23, 2001.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the Impact segment tonight, you may have heard that Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, a Republican, has filed an ethics complaint against Gary Condit with the House committee that deals with such things. Basically, the complaint says that Condit has discredited the House by impeding the investigation into the whereabouts of Chandra Levy. The question is, will the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct do anything?

Joining us now from Washington is Betsy Palmer, a reporter for Congressional Quarterly. In the past eight years, Ms. Palmer, seven. They've taken on seven cases, this House committee. They're not real busy. And in most of the cases, they didn't do anything, right?


O'REILLY: All right. So what are these people set up to do and why are they even there?

PALMER: They're their own internal policing system and really it's a pressure valve. It's for the really intense, difficult cases. They eventually come up with a decision. But by and large, they would be just as happy not to do anything.

O'REILLY: That's right. And in the Condit case, they said, "Oh, we can't do anything now because police are still investigating." That's bogus, is it not?

PALMER: Well, in their defense, I would say that's been a long- standing tradition of this committee, that when there's an official investigation ongoing, they tend to not want to get involved. Of course, that's also a really easy way for them to not get involved, which is, after all one of their more favorite things to do.

O'REILLY: Yes, but in the past, they have investigated people when there was a police investigation. Barney Frank being one of them.

PALMER: Yes, that's true. This is a little more urgent. There's a missing person involved. There could end up being a murder investigation. For a variety of reasons, I think that they've decided to stay clear of it.

O'REILLY: All right. 1983, Jerry Studds, Daniel Crane, members were engaged with sexual relations with congressional pages. They've got -- what did they do to them? They censored Studds and they censored Crane.

PALMER: Correct.

O'REILLY: Jim Wright, the House speaker, he resigned the speakership because of some violations -- 69 violations of House restrictions on gift and outside income. Jim Baits, he was a sexual guy. He got out of there. Barney Frank, as we just mentioned. They reprimanded him, right?

PALMER: Correct.


PALMER: That was after the House had rejected attempts by Newt Gingrich to have him expelled or censured.

O'REILLY: OK, so, they reprimanded Frank and then they -- talking about Speaker Gingrich, they reprimanded him formally, a few years later -- actually, seven years later. And that was a real nasty piece of work in the committee, correct?

PALMER: It most certainly was. It tore the committee apart. It tore the House apart. It was the first time that a speaker had ever faced that kind of a punishment from the House. He was also fined $300,000 for misleading the investigation and, you know, assess the cost of the wrong paths they went down.

O'REILLY: Right, and this was a case where he used tax deductible donations to finance a college course, promoted a Republican agenda, which is what we've been talking about with Jesse Jackson, the same kind of thing, using tax exempt funds to promote a political agenda. Now with this guy Condit, I don't know. I can't understand the reticence in Washington to condemn this man. Bob Barr did. A couple of other congressmen did, but most of them are on the sidelines. Do you have any idea why they're so shy about speaking up on this?

PALMER: The House and the Senate are very chummy institutions. And they're very -- they close ranks when one of their own is sort of under fire. Even you know, House members who did not approve of Speaker Gingrich's activities, Republicans in particular, were loathe to go in front of the cameras and say, "You know, this was terrible."

O'REILLY: Why? Why? Is it because they -- why?

PALMER: You know, that's a good question. It's part of the culture. And it's very deeply embedded. No one wants to serve on the Ethics committee. The one time I actually talked to a freshman who was very anxious and interested on serving on the Ethics committee, they wouldn't put him on there.

O'REILLY: Yes, I don't think -- it's because most people up there don't have any ethics. Or down there, rather.

PALMER: They certainly don't want to stand judgment on one another.

O'REILLY: They don't. And I've always said, the powerful protect each other. I've always said that on this program. And it's true. Am I wrong there?

PALMER: You know, I'm not going to attribute motivations to them. All I can tell you is that the House ethics committee and the Senate ethics committee are very loathe to stand in judgment on members.

O'REILLY: Right. So really, we don't have anybody policing these people. And as we see with Gary Condit, he's not going to resign. He wants the money and he's going to stay there until they have to throw him out. I'll give you the last word on it.

PALMER: Well, the Department of Justice has the authority and the ability to do go after members of Congress for misconduct. They actually investigated Bud Shuster, who was the Chairman of the Transportation Committee for a short while. Though, of course, they did end up dropping the investigation.

O'REILLY: Right, but this is more of an ethical thing than a justice thing at this juncture, him hurting the Levy family because obviously, he hasn't been charged with any crime. Ms. Palmer, we appreciate your point of view. Thanks very much.

PALMER: Thank you.

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