Under pressure by police to submit to a polygraph exam, Rep. Gary A. Condit instead took a privately arranged test and showed “absolutely no deception” when he denied any knowledge of Chandra Levy’s disappearance, a lawyer for Condit said Friday.
But District of Columbia police officials responded skeptically. Assistant Police Chief Terrance A. Gainer, irritated that Abbe Lowell, the congressman’s lawyer, had arranged the private test while police were trying to persuade him to consent to their polygraph, said investigators still want an exam with wide-ranging “follow-up” questions posed by FBI interviewers.
“I’ve never been involved in a polygraph exam where investigators didn’t want the freedom to ask general questions,” Gainer said. The police official called Condit’s private test “self-serving.”
Lowell said Friday night that Condit has “exhausted the information he can provide” after taking the test and also giving a DNA sample to detectives. Lowell said a noted polygraph examiner asked Condit if he had anything to do with Levy’s disappearance, caused her harm or knew where she might be found, and his answers registered as truthful.
Lowell did not discuss the timing or details of Condit’s test, saying only that its “results and raw data” were being forwarded to police and the FBI. William R. “Billy” Martin, a Washington lawyer for the Levy family, said he understood the test took place Thursday.
Lowell identified Condit’s polygraph examiner as Barry D. Colvert, a former FBI expert who had taught other bureau testers and was the primary examiner for the government in the Aldrich H. Ames, Jonathan Jay Pollard and John A. Walker espionage cases. Colvert asked “the questions that counted,” Lowell said.
While not challenging Colvert’s credentials, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said Friday that “questions asked during the private polygraph testing may not have been all of the questions the department felt were pertinent in this case.” He also intimated the polygraph was not done under “controlled conditions.”
The discord between police officials’ insistence that Condit open himself up completely to their investigation and Lowell’s narrower willingness to comply shows the cat-and-mouse game that the two sides have engaged in privately over recent days.
Even as Lowell sought to relieve the pressure on Condit by offering what he described as “complete cooperation,” police detectives and FBI agents this week have ratcheted up the pressure on the 53-year-old congressman.
Police still say that Condit is not a suspect in Levy’s disappearance. But after Condit acknowledged an affair with the missing intern, authorities expanded their probe to examine obstruction of justice allegations and are looking into other claims of romantic liaisons involving Condit--one involving a flight attendant and another involving the daughter of a Modesto minister.
Earlier this week, Lowell allowed Condit to open his fourth-floor condominium to police searchers and to submit a DNA sample. Five items from Condit’s residence--including a mini-blind marked with an unknown stain--are being examined at the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Va. Condit also allowed detectives to take a swab of skin imprinted with his DNA for future use if a crime scene or a body is found.
But Lowell had said he would only consider letting Condit take a police polygraph test, and on Friday night, the lawyer said negotiations had never become serious.
Gainer insisted that Lowell had short-circuited police efforts with his own test. “My impression was we were going to continue that dialogue,” Gainer said.
While Lowell touted Colvert’s “unassailable credentials,” the former FBI examiner apparently was still taking no chances with his results. Colvert shared Condit’s answers earlier Friday with David Raskin, one of the nation’s foremost experts on polygraphy.
Raskin, a consultant who has done research on polygraphy for more than 30 years, said the results Colvert disclosed to him lent weight to Condit’s insistence that he had nothing to do with Levy’s disappearance.
“One should give a great deal of credence to those results,” Raskin said. “I have reviewed Mr. Colvert’s work over many years, and he is an excellent polygrapher. He does work of the highest quality.
“He read me the questions, and they were exactly the questions you would want to ask. Was the congressman involved in her disappearance? Did he know of anyone who was involved in her disappearance? He [Condit] gave negative answers, and the test showed a very strong truthful outcome,” said Raskin.
A polygraph’s utility as a legal tool has been controversial for decades. Its reputation was damaged early in the 20th century when primitive blood pressure monitors were dubbed “lie detectors.”
In recent years, the tests have become more sophisticated. They can measure slight changes in respiration, breathing, blood pressure and perspiration, all of which could be triggered by a fear of being exposed as a liar.
Criminal defense lawyers are still wary of allowing clients to take polygraph tests. Their doubt reflects the fear that a loosely phrased question could provoke an answer that appears deceptive.
“As a lawyer, your instinct is always to have your client hunker down and shut up,” said Stan Brand, a Washington attorney and former law partner of Abbe Lowell. “I always think of the friend of mine who had a huge fish on his office wall. Under it, it said, ‘If I hadn’t opened my mouth, I wouldn’t have been hooked.’ That’s the rule I follow.”
Lowell, too, voiced doubt about polygraph tests earlier this week when he offered to consider letting Condit submit to a test overseen by FBI examiners. Although the lawyer insisted Friday that serious negotiations never got underway, police officials said the two sides were deep in talks. Police wanted wide latitude in asking questions, while Lowell wanted the scope narrowed tightly to Levy’s disappearance, sources said.
Lowell said Friday he would not rule out more cooperation with police, including the possibility that Condit could make himself available for more official interviews.
Meanwhile, police continued a laborious search through abandoned buildings near the apartment where Levy spent her last known moments. Officials also released a series of photographs of Levy with her hair altered--in case she had adopted a disguise.
Investigators have acknowledged privately in recent days that that likelihood and the possibility of suicide are considered increasingly remote--leaving the third theory that a crime was committed.