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Condit defends conduct in missing intern probe

Condit: "The public will have to decide."  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Rep. Gary Condit Monday declared "there was no reason" for him not to seek re-election, despite widespread criticism about his conduct during the investigation of a missing intern with whom he was romantically linked.

As he has before, Condit -- who faces a tough primary battle March 5 -- blamed the news media and law enforcement for the controversy and insisted he had done nothing wrong.

"You're not the court and you're not the church," he told CNN's Larry King, explaining his refusal to talk about the nature of his relationship with 24-year-old Chandra Levy, who has been missing for almost ten months.

"I just don't think she left," Condit said. "Something happened to her." He said he did not know what that was, however.

Rep. Gary Condit (D-California) appears on CNN's Larry King Live

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The California Democrat repeatedly refused to say whether he had an affair with Levy, pronouncing it "irrelevant." Police sources said Condit admitted to such a relationship with the missing 24-year-old during law enforcement interviews.

"You know, people want to make this into some romantic novel. It's not a romantic novel. It's a tragedy," Condit, 53, said, criticizing law enforcement officers for leaks surrounding the case.

Condit insisted he had cooperated from the start with police and FBI investigators probing Levy's disappearance and said he wanted to see the case resolved. "I had nothing to do with her disappearance, but all this attention on me takes away from the seriousness of this tragedy," he said.

Condit said he didn't talk about Levy publicly because he felt his comments could have hurt the case. "What was I to do? Was I going to respond to every leak and every rumor and every innuendo? I would have been on forever," Condit said.

He described his stance as a "principled decision," saying other lawmakers encouraged him to run and to maintain that he was entitled to a private life.

Condit, whose political standing has eroded since the controversy erupted last summer, faces five Democrat opponents next week. His strongest opponent, according to analysts, is Dennis Cardoza, a state assemblyman and former aide. Condit represents California's 18th Congressional District in the state's Central Valley.

Polls have Condit trailing in the race.

Levy, whose family lives in Condit's California district, was last seen in Washington April 30, shortly after her internship ended with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. She was planning to return home to California

He suggested that more pressure ought to be put on investigators handling the case, saying there have been no new developments in eight months.

"So I don't know why the heat's not on the authorities back on the East Coast," Condit said.

The married grandfather came under fire for waiting so long to disclose to investigators the nature of his relationship with Levy, a delay that critics charged impeded the search for the young woman.

A series of interviews this summer in which Condit sought to explain himself were roundly criticized and several local Democratic leaders said they did not think he should seek re-election.

Police have long said they have no suspects in the Levy case, and Condit has never been charged with any wrongdoing.

Condit -- who was joined by his grown son and daughter for part of the interview -- said his decision to run for re-election was complicated by the expected intense news coverage of his political career because of the Levy case.

"I thought really long and hard about it. I mean, it wasn't an easy decision," he said. "I mean, I took some time to think it through. But the fact of the matter is that, you know, there was just no reason for me to walk away from something that I love to do,

and that's to be a public servant, and particularly for the people of the central valley of California."

Throughout the hour-long interview, Condit insisted that the public had accepted his explanations and moved on. "The media doesn't get this," he said. But several callers into the program -- including one who described herself as a Condit supporter -- said he should have been more forthcoming. One caller pronounced Condit "evasive."

Replied Condit: "The public will have to decide whether or not they like the answers to my questions."



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