Lawyer for flight attendant to ask grand jury to indict Condit |

Lawyer for flight attendant to ask grand jury to indict Condit

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) – There’s a new problem for California Rep. Gary Condit, who’s already under intense criticism at home and in Washington for his responses to questions about his relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy.

James Robinson, the lawyer for flight attendant Anne Marie Smith, asked a grand jury as well as the Stanislaus County district attorney on Monday to indict Condit on charges the congressman tried to coerce Smith into denying they had an affair.

Robinson also hoped to meet separately with the foreman of the Stanislaus County, Calif., grand jury and the prosecutor to persuade them to file perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Condit; his chief of staff, Mike Lynch; and Don Thornton, an investigator for a California lawyer who has represented Condit.

Smith says she and Condit had a 10-month affair. After Levy’s disappearance, she says, Condit called her several times and asked her to sign a statement denying they had an affair.

In an interview with ABC last week, Condit said he never had an affair with Smith and never asked her to sign a statement.

”I didn’t ask anyone to lie about anything. I did not ask Anne Marie not to cooperate with law enforcement. That’s an absolute lie,” he said.

Federal officials have questioned Smith twice as part of their preliminary criminal investigation to determine whether Condit obstructed the investigation of Levy’s disappearance.

Joleen McKay, a former Condit aide, also has spoken to investigators about her allegations that she had an affair with Condit and that Condit aides tried to pressure her to remain silent about it.

Condit ended a nearly four-month public silence and agreed to a series of print and broadcast interviews last week. He repeatedly declined to provide details about the nature of his relationship with Levy, a 24-year-old from Modesto, Calif., who disappeared May 1.

Condit’s reluctance to discuss the topic brought harsh criticism from many constituents and even some Democratic colleagues, most notably House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. Gephardt said Condit was not candid and forward and raised the possibility of removing the congressman from the House Intelligence Committee.

On Monday, Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith said the minority leader would talk to Democratic colleagues about Condit when they return from vacation next week and then decide whether to take any action.

Abbe Lowell, Condit’s attorney, attempted to stem criticism Sunday. He said the congressman’s aides misled the media when, soon after Levy disappeared, they denied an affair between Condit and Levy. Lowell said the aides spoke without authorization from Condit and that he then told them to say no more about his relationship with Levy.

Lowell also said there’s no reason for Condit to be removed from the Intelligence Committee.

”Everything about him is out there. He’s probably the person on the Intelligence Committee who can’t be blackmailed anymore,” Lowell said on NBC’s ”Meet the Press.” ”If it’s not punitive for some reason, there’s no good reason. He’s served very well. His colleagues will tell you.”

Levy met the 53-year-old Condit, who is married and represents Modesto, while in Washington for an internship at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Her relatives say she told them she was having an affair with Condit.

Condit was interviewed about Levy four times by investigators. During the third interview, he acknowledged an affair, according to a police source.

Police say Condit is not a suspect in the disappearance, but have criticized him for not being more forthcoming earlier about his relationship with Levy.

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 Thursday’s nationally televised interview with ABC’s Connie Chung, 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.”

Condit’s constituents in central California were split on whether he should resign from Congress, according to a 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. The Bee has called on Condit to resign.

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.

Going directly to a grand jury rather than a prosecutor with a criminal complaint is an extremely rare legal maneuver, but Robinson said on CNN Monday that polls taken after Condit’s network TV appearance show the public wants tough action taken against the congressman.

Robinson also said he was thankful for the support of Judicial Watch, a non-profit group that made its name hounding the Clinton administration with lawsuits promoted through TV appearances, newsletters and fund-raising mailings.

In any case, Stanislaus County isn’t likely to take any actions based on Robinson’s legal maneuvers Monday, said Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley.

”If he wants criminal action taken, he needs to go to the law enforcement agencies in whose jurisdiction the acts happened, and they will investigate,” she said. ”If there’s a crime, they will forward it to us and we’ll decide if we’ll pursue a criminal case.”

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