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Condits cope with life after scandal

Four years since congressman's life tied up in Levy tragedy


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Gary A. Condit
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CNN's Larry King talks to Chad and Cadee Condit.

(CNN) -- Nearly four years removed from intense public scrutiny that rattled their family and captivated the nation, former Rep. Gary Condit, his wife and his children now have a life without politics, cameras and stinging accusations.

Condit had been active politically for 30 years, but he was not thrust into the national spotlight until 2001. Then the press focused not on his public service, but his relationship with Chandra Levy, a former federal Bureau of Prisons intern last seen alive on April 30 of that year.

As the story dragged on, the entire Condit family became a part of it. His wife Carolyn, through her lawyers, sued the The National Enquirer and threatened another lawsuit against NBC's "Law and Order" for allegedly linking her to Levy's disappearance.

Gary and Carolyn's two children, Chad and Cadee, emerged as their father's leading public defenders, speaking emphatically in support of their father and against his accusers.

"When folks start calling my dad a murderer or suggesting my mom and dad had something to do with the disappearance, that's too much, too far, unfair and it's wrong," Chad Condit said on "Larry King Live" in late August 2001.

Story rocks veteran politician

The son of a Baptist minister, Condit grew up in Oklahoma before moving with his family to Ceres, California, in the late 1960s. He soon threw himself into politics, serving as a Ceres city councilman, mayor and California state assemblyman all by the age of 35.

In 1989, he ran and won a special election and began the first of what would be seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Washington, Condit formed the Blue Dog Coalition with 20-plus other conservative Democrats. His political fortunes appeared to be riding high in spring 2001, as one of the pillars in the new administration's plan to build bipartisanship.

But everything changed in May of that year, when news broke of Levy's disappearance. While Condit -- 53 at the time -- publicly acknowledged only a friendship with Levy, 24, her family said that the two had a romantic relationship and police insisted Condit had told them that was the case.

Public opinion turned against Condit, who remained largely silent on the issue except for an interview with ABC's Connie Chung that was widely viewed as a public relations nightmare.

Critics accused him of being dishonest and hindering investigators, and Chandra's parents Susan and Robert Levy called Condit's behavior "suspicious."

"I feel like for some reason, internally, that as a mother that it's possible that my daughter would have graduated and she would be here with us for the summer" if she had not met Condit, Susan Levy told CNN's Larry King in August 2001.

In an August 2001 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 62 percent of respondents said Condit was "very" or "somewhat likely" to be involved in Levy's disappearance, 75 percent said he likely obstructed the Levy investigation, while more than three-quarters described him as "immoral" and "dishonest." The survey had a margin of effort of +/- 4 percentage points.

Children defend embattled father

While their father shunned the limelight after the Levy story broke, his two children -- Chad and Cadee Condit -- stepped up to defend him.

"People have made my dad out to be this demon," Cadee Condit told CNN's Larry King in early September 2001. "He is the most loving, caring, compassionate man I know. Anyone calls my dad a murderer, I'm going to come on your show and defend him."

Before the scandal, both Condit children were in politics, working under then-California Gov. Gray Davis. Chad Condit described Davis, who was later recalled from office and replaced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a close friend of his father.

Chad, who had served four years in the U.S. Navy, represented the governor on educational, agricultural and other issues in Central Valley, a political battleground. The father of three boys, then 34, earned $110,000 a year.

Cadee, 25 at the time, oversaw day-to-day operations in Davis' private office, taking home $52,000 annually.

The siblings quit their jobs after the governor said he was "disheartened that Congressman Condit did not speak out more quickly or more fully."

In a statement, Chad and Cadee noted their father's "strong public support, endorsement and organizational efforts" during Davis' 1998 gubernatorial campaign.

"It's that kind of loyalty to friends that has been the hallmark of his career and is a standard we live up to," the siblings wrote. "Your statement did not or will not help find Chandra Levy, and contrary to your statement, Congressman Condit was fully forthcoming to law enforcement."

Political life winds down

After resigning, the Condit children worked for their father's political action committee -- initially named Keep California Golden and later Justice PAC, the California daily The Modesto Bee reported.

Donations to the committee, first created to boost Rep. Condit's statewide influence, dried up after the Levy scandal. Three-quarters of the PAC's funds -- $110,000 to Chad, $99,500 to Cadee -- went to the Condit children, who were classified as "campaign consultants" in public records, according to the Bee.

Gary Condit's political career ended, at least temporarily, in March 2002, when he lost a Democratic primary resoundingly to his former aide and then-California assemblyman Dennis Cardoza. Months later, Chad and Cadee lashed out at Cardoza.

"If this district elects Dennis Cardoza, it will elect someone who cares about one thing: Dennis Cardoza," the two wrote in an October 10, 2002, letter. "He is neither Democrat, Republican or independent, but an opportunist that would use anything to get elected."

Earlier in the year, in May, a man walking his dog spotted Levy's remains in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Her death was ruled a homicide. Gary Condit was never named a suspect in her murder, and no one has been arrested in connection with the case.

After leaving Capitol Hill, Gary Condit moved from his California home to Arizona, The Modesto Bee reported.


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