COUNTY grand jury to review flight attendant's claims against Condit

Friday, September 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) _ A grand jury in Gary Condit's district must now decide whether to investigate a flight attendant's claims that the Democratic congressman obstructed justice.

Anne Marie Smith made the allegations against Condit and his staff last week, saying Condit asked her to sign an affidavit stating they didn't have an affair.

Stanislaus County's civil grand jury met in an unusual session Thursday to take up the matter, said Marnie Ardis, the county employee who oversees the grand jury.

Grand jury proceedings normally are secret, but Ardis said she was willing to confirm the agenda in this case because Smith went public when her lawyer, James Robinson, announced the filing of the complaint in a news conference on the county courthouse steps.

Smith, 40, claims Condit and his intermediaries tried to get her to sign a false affidavit denying they had an affair. She said they had a 10-month romance.

Condit has denied asking anybody to lie. His attorney, Abbe Lowell, said Smith and the congressman apparently have different definitions of the word ``relationship.''

Robinson said he hoped the civil grand jury would pursue 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.

Citizen requests for criminal charges usually are made directly to police or prosecutors, who can present evidence to criminal grand juries. Robinson said he went to the civil grand jury to bypass the district attorney, Jim Brazelton, who has said he's unlikely to bring any charges.

The 19-member panel can decide whether to investigate Smith's claims, or reject her citizen's complaint. The decision won't be released to the public, but if the complaint is rejected, Smith and her lawyer would be notified by letter.

Ardis said the civil grand jury _ convened to oversee local government _ cannot indict anyone and that criminal charges like the ones alleged by Smith must eventually be filed by the prosecutor anyway.

Smith's relationship with Condit became public after the congressman was linked to Chandra Levy, a 24-year-old government intern from Modesto who vanished in Washington on May 1.

Condit, 53, is not considered a suspect in her disappearance, but police sources say he acknowledged having an extramarital affair with Levy.

Condit returned to Congress this week to a mixed reception from his colleagues. Several members greeted him warmly on the House floor when they gathered for a vote Wednesday evening, but most avoided him.

Rep. Richard Armey, R-Texas, the House minority leader, joined Condit critics by suggesting that Condit be stripped of his seat on the House intelligence committee.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said he would talk to Democrats about whether to take any action against Condit.

Condit has three options regarding his future: He can quit now, seek re-election or retire at the end of his term. Gephardt said it is up to Condit to decide whether to seek re-election.

``That's a decision he has to make. He got elected by over a half million people, just like I did,'' Gephardt said. ``His political future is between him and them. It's not my business.''