Condit: Intern's parents 'unfair'
MODESTO, California (CNN) -- Embattled California Rep. Gary Condit stepped up his campaign Friday repair his image in the Chandra Levy case, telling a national magazine the missing intern's family was "unfair" in their suspicions of him.
In an edition of People magazine that hit newstands Friday, the Democratic lawmaker said the intern's parents, Robert and Susan, are not the only people who want to learn what happened to the 24-year-old intern.
"My heart aches for them every day. But you know what? They don't have any reason to be suspicious of me," he said in the magazine, which appeared less than 24 hours after Condit spoke on ABC's "PrimeTime."
"I would never do anything to harm Chandra. And I think it's unfair when they make references to maybe I had something to do with the disappearance. It's not correct," he said. "Next to them and their family, I'm probably hoping to find Chandra more than anyone else."
The 53-year-old congressman's televised interview with Connie Chung, meanwhile, drew mixed reviews in the capital and in his district.
Levy family members were "very upset" after Condit declined to disclose details about his relationship with Levy in the interview, a source close to the family told CNN.
Condit's performance was "outrageous," said Michael Maistelman, Levy's cousin.
"He has the audacity to come on national television and basically deny things, make allegations that my cousins are either stupid or lying, make allegations that police are either stupid or lying," Maistelman said. "Obviously, his career is more important than my 24-year-old cousin."
Condit was "dishonest in his answers," added the family's Washington attorney, Billy Martin.
In his ABC interview, Condit said he did not lie to Susan Levy, who claims that Condit told her "no" when she asked him directly whether he was having an affair with her daughter.
"She did not ask me that question," Condit said. "I told Mrs. Levy the truth. I'm sorry and I regret if she misunderstood what I had to say."
In his interview with People, Condit said, "She (Susan Levy) named some people who she thought might be involved with Chandra. My name was not mentioned ... She asked me about other members of Congress."
But Martin, in an interview on ABC's "Nightline" and in conversations with reporters afterward, said Susan Levy was "very clear" that she asked that question about the congressman's relationship with her daughter.
"Mrs. Levy will not back away," he said. "She told me I was authorized to say that if Gary Condit says she is mistaken, he is lying."
During his interview with ABC, Condit was also asked about statements by Chandra Levy's aunt, Linda Zamsky, that the missing intern had told her that she and Condit had discussed marriage and children.
Condit: Not in love
"I never had those conversations, so I don't know where the aunt got that," said Condit, who declined to discuss details of his relationship with Levy other than to say he was not in love with her and never had any intention of leaving his wife of 34 years, Carolyn.
Martin disagreed again with Condit's assessment.
"Zamsky is very clear," Martin said. "She had a long conversation with Chandra where Chandra was telling her, 'I love this man. We have a meaningful relationship. I've told him I want to have children. He loves me enough to agree to it. He cares enough about me to agree that I can have a child.'"
Levy was last seen April 30 at her Washington gym. Police believe she was in her apartment on the morning of May 1, but there have been no traces of her since.
After four months of public silence, Condit, who has represented California's Central Valley in Congress since 1989, launched a carefully planned media blitz this week to combat the political damage from the uproar surrounding her disappearance.
He mailed 200,000 letters to constituents, sat down for broadcast interviews with ABC and Sacramento TV station KOVR and gave interviews to People and Newsweek magazines and a local newspaper, the Merced Sun-Star.
On People's cover, Condit appears with his wife by his side. According to the accompanying article, Carolyn Condit appeared for a pre-interview photo shoot "frail and uneasy, smiling tentatively at her husband as he placed an arm around her." She then left before the 90-minute interview was conducted, the magazine reports.
In all of his interviews, Condit insisted that, despite his public silence, he has been cooperating fully with law enforcement officials investigating Levy's disappearance. During his interviews with police, he did not invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Condit told the Merced Sun-Star.
But Condit never answered directly a central question: Did he have a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy?
"We had a close relationship. I liked her very much," he told Chung. But because of a desire to respect his family's privacy, and due to a "specific request by the Levy family," he would not provide details about the nature of their relationship, Condit said.
"I've been married 34 years. I have not been a perfect man. I have made mistakes in my life," said Condit, who repeated that line four times to Chung.
Chung said she was "completely shocked" and "incredulous" by Condit's responses to her queries.
"I came to realize that this was something that he was going to say practically verbatim," she said.
The "specific request" from the Levy family that Condit cited was a statement Martin made to CNN that the Levy family was not interested in hearing the details of the lawmaker's relationship with the intern.
"The congressman felt that that was the Levys saying to him, 'Look, that's not for prime time,'" said Condit's attorney, Abbe Lowell, speaking on "Nightline."
"We took it seriously and obeyed and thought we were honoring the wishes of the Levys," he said.
Capitol Hill, meanwhile, hardly gave Condit glowing reviews for his televised performance. A top Democratic House leadership aide called his interview "a disappointment."
"People expected him to be more candid and forthcoming. He refused to answer all the key questions," the aide told CNN.
A key aide to one of California's two Democratic senators offered an even harsher assessment, calling Condit's performance "maddening."
"He's not being forthcoming, saying he wants to protect his family's privacy," said the aide. "So why do the interview?"
Closer to Condit's home, Modesto, California, Mayor Carmen Sabatino said he thought Condit "did better than expected."
"The congressman has made himself a fugitive from the media," he told CNN on Friday. "Last night (Thursday) I guess he turned himself in. I think he lacked specificity, and now I guess we're at a stage where we don't have any facts or evidence really to base a decision on."
"We have people calling each other liars," he said. "I don't know how we resolve that."
Asked in the KOVR interview about his political future, Condit said he has "no intentions of changing my plans at this moment" to run for re-election in 2002. He will make a formal announcement within a few months, Condit said.
Condit told People magazine that he would "sit down and talk to people in my district. I will talk to family. ...I will trust the people. They'll figure out what they think of this, what parts of it are important."
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