By Allan Lengel
Ok, so it’s an election year where both sides in the presidential race have been endlessly accusing one another of lying. Perhaps, having been out of the game for a while, former Congressman Gary Condit, a blue dog Democrat from California, feels left out and has the itch to lie, too.
I’m referring to his high-profile interview on Dr. Phil this week in which he insisted that he had a platonic relationship with intern Chandra Levy. He says police tried to frame him.
“I saw her one time outside the office, at a restaurant, and she came by my condo once,” Condit said of Levy on Dr. Phil. “Maybe twice. Yeah, I think it was twice she came by. Once again, I want to make this clear: There’s nothing unusual about someone coming by my condo. A lot of people did. People have made some speculation that that means something special … Both times she had a valid reason to come by.”
While at the Washington Post, I was one of the lead reporters who covered the tragic disappearance of Chandra Levy in 2001 and the discovery of her skeletal remains in 2002 in Rock Creek Park in northwest D.C.
Back in 2001, I first reported that Condit, during his first interview with D.C. police, admitted that Levy, who was from his California Congressional district, had slept over his apartment in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington. She was a 24-year-old intern with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Condit was then asked by police: So you were having an affair, to which he replied: “You figure it out.” At the time, details of the police interview were confirmed by five sources.
As the summer wore on, D.C. police and the FBI insisted that he was not a suspect. But they continued to investigate him, and follow up with interviews. He was certainly a person of interest, though there were some in law enforcement who felt strongly that he did not harm Levy.
Still, things weren’t going so well for Condit. The public was suspicious. (The next year he lost his bid for re-election).
His handlers, including the very aggressive and able Washington lawyer, Abbe Lowell, decided it would be best for him to take to the airwaves and clear things up. ABC’s Connie Chung was granted the interview, which was a big get at the time.
On Aug. 23, 2001, the interview aired. It was a disaster.
A source who knew Condit told me that he was supposed begin the interview by reading a statement and admitting that he had an affair with Levy. The thought was that such candidness would give him credibility when he denied having anything to do with her disappearance.
Instead, he decided to forgo the statement and answer Chung’s questions.
It was a public relations nightmare. I watched the interview in the newsroom in near shock. I couldn’t believe he was being so evasive.
Chung asked if he had anything to do with her disappearance.
He responded: “No, I didn’t.”
She eventually got around to asking about the relationship.
CHUNG: Can you describe your relationship? What exactly was your relationship with Chandra Levy?
CONDIT: Well, I met Chandra … last, um, October. And we became very close. I met her in Washington, DC.
CHUNG Very close, meaning …?
CONDIT: We had a close relationship. I liked her very much.
CHUNG: May I ask you, was it a sexual relationship?
CONDIT: Well, Connie, I’ve been married for 34 years, and I’ve not been a … a perfect man, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. But um, out of respect for my family, and out of a specific request from the Levy family, I think it’s best that I not get into those details uh, about Chandra Levy.
If there were a time to plead his case, and deny having the relationship, it would have been then. But Condit knew better. So did the public.
Chung, who knew she had a ratings winner, pressed on. It was the biggest story of the summer.
CHUNG : What we’re talking about is whether or not you will come forward to uh, lift this veil of suspicion that seems to have clouded you. Can you tell us … did you have a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy?
CONDIT: Well, once again, I’ve been married 34 years. I have not been a perfect man. I have made mistakes in my life. But out of respect for my family, out of a specific request by the Levy family, it is best that I not get into the details of the relationship.
CHUNG: Can you tell me this: was Chandra Levy in love with you? Were you in love with her?
CONDIT: Well, I don’t know that she was in love with me. She never said so. And I was not in love with her.
CHUNG: Did she want to marry you and have your child?
CONDIT: I only knew Chandra Levy for five months. And in that five months’ period, we never had a discussion about a future, about children, about marriage. Any of those items never came up in that five-month period.
CHUNG: Did you ever make promises to her?
CHUNG: Did she want you to leave your wife?
CONDIT: No. I mean, I’ve been married for 34 years, and I intend to stay married to that woman as long as she’ll have me.
And, oh yes, by the way, if there’s still any doubt, investigators recovered a pair of Chandra Levy’s underwear with Condit’s semen.
Condit has now written a book on his experiences titled: “Actual Malice: A True Crime Political Thriller.”
Obviously, he’ll sell more books if he’s viewed as a victim rather than a married Congressman full of b.s. who carried on an affair while his dutiful wife stayed back home in Modesto, Calif.
Eventually, the focus shifted to Ingmar Guandique, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, who ended up being convicted of Levy’s murder in 2010. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison, but the conviction was tossed and a new trial was ordered. In July, shortly, before the trial was to begin, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the charges, saying it couldn’t prove the case.
Some people still think Guandique did it. After all, he had previously attacked female joggers in the park before Levy disappeared.
But others are once again asking: Who killed Chandra Levy?