Sex, Lies, And Polygraphs

  • Share
  • Read Later
MANNY CENETA/AFP

Congressmen don't usually hang around on the House floor any longer than they have to. But for Gary Condit, it may be the only sanctuary left. On Thursday afternoon, as the campaign-reform bill was crashing to earth, so did the rest of his life. At the back of the chamber, the California Congressman leaned on the rail, chatting and joking with the men and women who still treat him as a colleague. As the others wandered away one by one, Condit lingered for a while, all alone.

It is easy to understand why Condit would be reluctant to go outside. It is now the third month of saturation coverage of the disappearance of Chandra Levy. While authorities seem no closer to finding out what happened to the 24-year-old intern, we seem to have learned a lot about the secret life of a preacher's kid from Oklahoma who grew up to be a California Congressman. He once campaigned under the slogan "Setting a Good Example." It was a dangerous boast for any public official to make, practically a dare to be proved wrong.

In the week after Condit finally admitted to police that he had had an affair with Levy, new and ominous information emerged--from investigators, from tabloid sludge to website Drudge, from the incessant talk-show tales told by another "other woman" (a flight attendant with fire-engine red hair) to the claims of a father who said his daughter's fear of her former lover had driven her into hiding. The Condit legal team fought back, volunteering DNA samples, allowing searches, proffering a polygraph test. But the recriminations have not stopped, not from the cops, not from the press and certainly not from the Levys.

Even if Condit had nothing to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance--police continue to insist that he's not a suspect--his painstakingly tended image has been shattered and his political career declared dead. Democrats and Republicans are already scheming how to carve his conservative district to maximum advantage, or reapportion it out of existence. "If he's smart, he won't even run for re-election," says A.G. Block, executive editor of California Journal, a magazine on state politics.

Most damaging of the accusations last week was that seven years ago, Condit had an affair with the teenage daughter of a Pentecostal minister in his district. It is the stuff of daytime soaps. The minister just happened to do landscaping work for the Levys. According to the Washington Post, while the Rev. Otis Thomas was caring for the roses by the Levys' backyard pool, Chandra's mother struck up a conversation about her daughter's friendship with the Congressman. Thomas then confided that his own daughter Jennifer, now 26, had had an affair with Condit years ago, and that it had ended badly. Susan Levy immediately called her daughter to warn her. Like many moms, she was told to butt out. Chandra later assured her mother that Condit had "explained it all." (Condit, through his chief of staff, denied the affair with Thomas' daughter.)

The minister told the Modesto Bee that when news of Levy's disappearance first broke, and Condit, through staff, expressed concern about his "good friend," Jennifer Thomas had shouted at the television, "That's a lie!" Her father also claimed that he had received an anonymous phone call warning him not to talk. When reporters showed up at the family doorstep the day his story went public, they were greeted with a handwritten note: "I never met that Congressman who's involved in all this...I don't even know how both me and my father got mixed up in this." It was signed Jennifer Thomas. Was it really her signature? Had she had the affair, or was her father seeking the spotlight? The FBI took the claims seriously enough to question Otis Thomas.

If Jennifer Thomas was trying to fend off the media glare, flight attendant Anne Marie Smith was getting maximum exposure. She made the cable-network rounds and spent two days at FBI headquarters in Washington. Smith's story has grown increasingly sinister. Her lawyer, Jim Robinson, told Fox News that Smith had found "neckties tied together underneath [Condit's] bed, as if someone had been tied up," and that Smith had grown disturbed near the end of their relationship at some of Condit's "peculiar sexual fantasies." The lawyer didn't elaborate. On Friday night, on Larry King Live, Smith declared she had been attracted to Condit because of his personality. Then she said she would give no more interviews and wanted only to return to her life as a flight attendant.

As in all such sagas, fact and factitiousness mix indiscriminately. A friend of the missing intern's told CBS News that when he asked Levy about a recent medical appointment, Levy became awkward. The friend took the silence to mean that she was "possibly" pregnant. Hence a whole new line of speculation. The Levys' attorney, Billy Martin, told CBS News that he knows the truth about her pregnancy but will not give a clue. As for Levy's father, he expressed "doubt" to the Associated Press that she was pregnant.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2