A Singular Focus
- July 9, 2001: Rep. Gary Condit gives police a DNA sample.
- July 10: Police search Condit's apartment. Three hours before the search, Condit disposes of a box that had contained a watch from a former aide.
- July 11: Acting on a tip, police recover the watch box from a trash can near a McDonald's in Alexandria.
About 10 p.m. on July 9, Gary Condit and his lawyer met lead Detective Ralph Durant in the dimly lit parking lot behind the Giant supermarket on Wisconsin Avenue near the National Cathedral. Cooler heads had prevailed, and Condit had agreed to give a DNA sample.
Durant used a cotton swab to quickly take a sample of saliva from the congressman's mouth. No words were exchanged. The procedure took less than a minute. The detective turned the sample over to the D.C. Police Mobile Crime Unit, which sent it to the FBI laboratory at Quantico for testing.
During their initial search of Chandra's apartment, D.C. police found a pair of black panties stained with semen. Prosecutors wanted to know if the semen belonged to Condit or if Chandra was seeing another man.
The DNA from Condit's saliva was compared with the DNA on the panties. It was a match.
To D.C. Chief of Detectives Jack Barrett, the match added little to the case. It just confirmed what he already knew: The congressman had been having an affair with the missing intern. Barrett thought Condit was simply trying to save his marriage and his political career.
But Barrett said the DNA match strengthened the suspicions of the prosecutors overseeing the investigation, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barbara Kittay and Heidi Pasichow. "The prosecutors think this is more proof that he did it," Barrett recalled. "To the prosecutors, it was an aha moment."
Barrett thought the prosecutors were too focused on Condit's relationships with women as a possible key to Chandra's disappearance. He thought they were placing too many demands on his detectives, ordering them to follow all leads relating to Condit and his aides, leaving little time to follow other investigative paths.
The prosecutors saw it differently. The DNA match was one piece of a large puzzle surrounding Chandra and Condit that they were trying to assemble. Kittay said they would have been remiss not to focus on Condit because he knew Chandra's patterns of behavior. "We spent the most amount of time on the person that spent the most amount of time with Chandra," she said.
The media frenzy was adding to the tension between the police and the prosecutors. While the DNA match was one of the investigation's few details that did not leak out, the prosecutors were furious at the police over the many other leaks, which created an enormous distraction for everyone and had the potential to compromise the case. "It was an impossible situation to manage," Kittay recalled. "Everyone wanted to be a hero. Everyone wanted to solve it." She said the prosecutor's office, unlike the police, did not leak or hold news conferences.
Kittay was so upset by the leaks, she said, that she eventually asked to be taken off the case. Behind the scenes, Barrett had asked that new prosecutors be assigned to it.
On July 10, the day after Condit gave his DNA sample, television satellite trucks were camped outside his apartment building. Pedestrians could barely squeeze by. In the halls of Congress, reporters were hounding him. The summertime scandal was attracting worldwide attention and getting picked up by news outlets around the globe, from the Daily Mail in London to the Mercury in Hobart, Australia, to the Xinhua News Agency in China.
Reporters had been tipped off that the police were about to search Condit's apartment for the first time. Tabloid reporters were offering cash for information. The story had become a national soap opera, with wall-to-wall coverage on cable television shows such as "Crossfire," "Hannity & Colmes" and "Hardball."
At 11:15 that night, with the media looking on, police officers and crime-scene technicians pulled up in unmarked cars, entered the building and began searching the congressman's fourth-floor apartment. Mobile Crime Unit technicians took swabs from his bathroom's floor, doorknob, walls and bathtub. During the 3 1/2-hour search, they collected hair from a shoe in a closet and took lint from a clothes dryer. The cameramen on the street shot footage of technicians inside the darkened apartment using ultraviolet lights to search for forensic evidence - blood, fingerprints, fibers - bathing the scene in an eerie purple glow.
"I never counted on them wanting to focus all this attention on me," Condit later recalled. "I've been around politics a long time and really never felt that the press was as brutal and as incompetent as they were going to be."