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Jewish World Review July 31, 2001 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5761

John H. Fund

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Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security -- LAST week, I asked a senior House member why Rep. Gary Condit was still on the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Condit himself describes the committee as concerned with "very sensitive issues of immediate and long-term national security." I reminded the lawmaker that Mr. Condit's behavior has clearly made him a prime candidate for blackmail. "Well, with all this coverage he no longer looks to be blackmailable," this Condit colleague said before quickly changing the subject.

That abdication of responsibility won't do. Mr. Condit has more to hide about his double life. That became clear when, just hours before police were to search his apartment, the California congressman was spotted throwing away a watch case another erstwhile paramour had given him. Presumably Mr. Condit's affairs are no longer news to his wife, so from whom was he trying to hide?

It's true that whether Mr. Condit can continue to be an effective representative is for the people in Modesto to decide. But it's clear he has abused the public trust in the course of a criminal investigation by withholding evidence and allowing himself to be compromised in ways that are far more serious than having a discreet affair. Mr. Condit should resign his membership on the Intelligence Committee. If he won't, it's up to House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who named the Democratic members of that committee, to remove him. But there's "no reason to act now," Mr. Gephardt says.

Victoria Toensing, who served as chief council for the Senate Intelligence Committee in the 1980s, begs to differ. Mr. Condit is a "classic national-security risk," she says. There must be "a marriage-like trust" between the intelligence agencies and congressional intelligence committees.

Back in 1995 President Clinton made known his concerns about the danger of blackmail against high-ranking officials. In August of that year he signed Executive Order 12968, which states that individuals eligible for access to classified material must have "strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion."

Of course, three months later Mr. Clinton began his relationship with 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He later told her he feared their phone sessions had been monitored by a "foreign embassy." In the end the president escaped accountability for his reckless disregard of national security. But that bad precedent is no reason for Congress to let Mr. Condit off the hook, as some of his colleague appear more than willing to do.

The House Ethics Committee has already received two separate complaints asking it to look into Rep. Condit's behavior. The first was by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group. The second was by Rep. Bob Barr, the Georgia Republican who was the first member of Congress to call for an impeachment inquiry of President Clinton.

Mr. Barr's complaint notes there is "already substantial evidence" that Mr. Condit obstructed a law-enforcement investigation and has brought discredit to the House. He clearly misled police during their first two interviews about Ms. Levy's disappearance, confessing to their relationship only when cornered. In addition, stewardess Anne Marie Smith claims that Mr. Condit pressured her to deny their yearlong affair. Mr. Condit's law firm has admitted it e-mailed a "draft" statement to her that claimed she had not had a "romantic relationship" with him. If Mr. Condit encouraged perjury, that alone merits the close attention of the House Ethics Committee.

Unfortunately, the committee has a spotty reputation. Mort Kondracke of Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, calls it a "Keystone Kops outfit" that too often will "take endless years to come up with a conclusion."

Certainly, neither the committee nor House leaders are eager to act. Ethics Chairman Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican, told National Public Radio: "Far as we know, Congressman Condit has not violated any laws. . . . I would hope I wouldn't have handled it quite that way, but who knows?"

Just last Wednesday, Mr. Gephardt actually told Alan Colmes of Fox News Channel that "Gary, as far as I know from reports I've read, is cooperating fully with the police." Lanny Davis, an erstwhile Clinton spinner, was "just dumbfounded. . . . He now knows that for two months, Mr. Condit misled and withheld material evidence from the police concerning his relationship, including that his wife was in town the last weekend."

Congress is allowing its desire to protect one of its own to override its responsibility to police its own ranks. Obviously, some members of Congress have strayed from their wedding vows. Mr. Condit, though, has engaged in reckless behavior and compromised the public trust. It's imperative that the House remove him from the Intelligence Committee and initiate an Ethics Committee probe that doesn't interfere with the police search for Chandra Levy.

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06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund