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Who Killed Chandra Levy? - Chapter Seven: Crisis in Condit Country

By Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham and Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writers
June 20, 2008

By the first week of July 2001, D.C. detectives investigating the May 1 disappearance of Chandra Levy still had no idea that a man had been attacking young female joggers at knifepoint in Rock Creek Park. Rep. Gary Condit remained the center of police attention. The week would begin badly for him and rapidly get worse.

On July 2, Anne Marie Smith, the United Airlines flight attendant who told police she had an affair with Condit, went public on Fox News with a sensational story. She said that a Condit representative had tried to get her to sign an affidavit denying the relationship.

Smith's story had first appeared in Star magazine, a racy supermarket tabloid that paid Smith's roommate $2,500 for the tip.

Smith said she soon received a call from the Condit representative. He said he had an affidavit that he wanted her to sign. It read: "I do not and have not had a relationship with Congressman Condit other than being acquainted with him. I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct."

Smith was scared, and she called a family friend who practiced law in Seattle. The lawyer told the Condit representative that Smith would not sign the affidavit because it wasn't true.

Condit said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he had no relationship with Smith and had nothing to do with the affidavit. He called Smith's account "a paid story." Smith denied that she was paid for the story.

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With the bad news hanging over him, Condit skipped the annual Fourth of July parade in Modesto, Calif., which for nearly 20 years had been a personal celebration of sorts for the congressman. Customarily, he rode in a convertible driven by one of his aides down a street that hometown hero George Lucas made famous in "American Graffiti." Michael Lynch, the congressman's chief of staff in Modesto, said Condit was sorry he couldn't make it. "Another circumstance arose that he had to attend to," Lynch told reporters.

Amid the crowd were people holding placards with pictures of Chandra. Others stood in silence, bearing yellow ribbons. Some were vocal. "We want answers from Congressman Condit!" one called out.

The next day, there was another explosive development: Linda Zamsky, Chandra's 40-year-old aunt and confidante who lived near the Elk River in Chesapeake City, Md., went before the cameras. The fast-talking, curly-haired native of Philadelphia said she was tired of hearing congressional aides deny that Condit had an affair with her niece.

Zamsky said Chandra had confided in her during numerous conversations and long walks when the intern visited her aunt for Thanksgiving in 2000 and Passover a few months later. Chandra told her that Condit kept cactus in his apartment, that his favorite ice cream was Ben & Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough. She said the congressman gave her Godiva chocolates and a gold bracelet, which she showed to her aunt.

Zamsky said her niece told her that they had a five-year plan: Condit would leave his wife and start a family with Chandra. But until then, she had to avoid being seen when she was in Condit's building.

Zamsky last heard from Chandra on April 29, two days before she disappeared. She left a message on her aunt's answering machine, saying she was heading back to California and had some "big news." Zamsky said she didn't sound upset.

In his recent Post interview, Condit denied that he told Chandra he wanted to start a new life with her.

"I don't believe the aunt knows anything about me," he said. "I had no interest in starting a family and leaving my wife. Those conversations never occurred. It's just made up."

Condit said the last time he spoke with Chandra, on April 29, he told her he would help her line up job interviews with the FBI and CIA.

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On July 5, as Zamsky was going before the cameras, police were interviewing Condit's wife, Carolyn, in an FBI office near the Tysons Corner Center. It was the "circumstance" that prevented the Condits from attending the Fourth of July parade in Modesto. Also in the meeting were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barbara Kittay and Heidi Pasichow. The prosecutors were assigned to supervise the investigation, guiding detectives and FBI agents to ensure that they were putting together a court-ready case.

Kittay had worked as a prosecutor in Philadelphia and at the Justice Department before joining the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. Pasichow was a veteran of the D.C. office, serving as a deputy of its homicide division at one point. Both women had won convictions in a number of high-profile cases. Now they were focusing on Gary Condit.

Carolyn Condit was slender and attractive, a kind, thoughtful woman who had been an asset to the congressman's political career. She said she had a close relationship with her husband of 34 years. They talked twice every day, and he returned to their California home in Ceres almost every weekend.

The investigators wanted to know when she first heard about Chandra. Carolyn Condit described the phone call she received on May 6 from Robert Levy, who wanted to talk to her husband about his missing daughter.

Carolyn told the investigators that the missing intern and her husband were just friends. They asked if she was aware that Chandra had visited her husband's apartment as "just friends."

The Condits' attorney, Abbe Lowell, interrupted, instructing Carolyn not to answer by invoking the marital privilege. Jack Barrett, the chief of D.C. detectives, who supervised the case, was uncomfortable with the tenor of the questioning by the prosecutors. It was "very combative," Barrett recalled. Kittay said she was just trying to elicit information. "It wasn't hostile," she said.

During the three-hour interview, Carolyn was asked to account for her whereabouts around the time Chandra went missing. She said she flew to Washington on April 28 for a luncheon event for first lady Laura Bush at the Washington Hilton. While she was in town, she stayed with her husband at his Adams Morgan apartment and met him for brunch and dinner. One day, they shopped together in the neighborhood. After the May 3 luncheon, she flew home to Ceres.

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The next day, July 6, Barrett had a private meeting with Lowell at a Starbucks at Seventh and H streets, across from the colorful, seven-roofed wooden archway in Washington's tiny Chinatown.

During their initial search of Chandra's apartment, Barrett's detectives found a pair of black panties stained with semen along with other dirty laundry in a Williams-Sonoma bag on the breakfast countertop. The prosecutors wanted to know if the semen belonged to Gary Condit or if Chandra was seeing another man. A DNA test was the only way to find out.

During the Starbucks meeting, Lowell said his client would consent to a third interview and answer detailed questions about his relationship with Chandra. Lowell and Barrett agreed to put the question of a DNA test aside for the moment.

At 8:30 that night Condit sat down with Barrett, lead Detective Ralph Durant and Kittay, the prosecutor, in Lowell's downtown Washington office.

Kittay pressed the congressman to be precise about the nature of his friendship with Chandra. Condit stated that the relationship started in November 2000. He said Chandra came over to his Adams Morgan apartment a couple of times a week, usually showing up in her gym outfit and carrying a backpack with a change of clothes. Condit also admitted giving Chandra a gold bracelet; in a previous interview with police he denied that he had.

Kittay then asked questions about other women. Lowell objected. Finally, Kittay asked Condit to submit to a DNA test. Lowell blew up. He and Kittay began yelling at each other.

"It was like an atomic bomb going off," Barrett recalled. He said he and Condit looked at each other, and both rolled their eyes.

Lowell abruptly ended the meeting and told the police and the prosecutor to leave his office.

Next chapter: A secret DNA test.

The Washington Post spent a year reconstructing the disappearance of Chandra Levy and the investigation of her death. Reporters interviewed scores of people, including police officials, investigators and suspects — many for the first time — and obtained details about dozens of previously unknown private conversations and events.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company