A U.S. Congressman from California who has been romantically linked with a missing 24-year-old woman has finally spoken out about the case on American television. In an interview Thursday, Congressman Gary Condit acknowledged he had a close relationship with missing Washington intern Chandra Levy but denied that he had anything to do with her disappearance, a case that has baffled police for nearly four months.
The scandal involving Congressman Gary Condit and his relationship with Chandra Levy has been the focus of intense U.S. media coverage for months.
On Thursday, Congressman Condit took the unusual step of submitting to a nationally televised interview in hopes of clearing the air about his involvement with Ms. Levy and undoing some of the political damage he has suffered from the scandal.
In the interview with ABC television, Congressman Condit acknowledged having what he described as a "very close relationship" with the missing 24-year-old intern.
But Congressman Condit would neither confirm nor deny that he was either romantically or sexually involved with Chandra Levy, saying "I have been married for 34 years. I have not been a perfect man. I have made mistakes in my life. But out of respect for my family, [and] out of a specific request by the Levy family, I think it is best that I not get into the details of the relationship."
In the interview, Congressman Condit said he had nothing to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance and that he had no idea what had happened to her.
Washington police have repeatedly said Congressman Condit is not a suspect in connection with Ms. Levy's disappearance despite the fact that they have interviewed him three times and searched his apartment.
An attorney for the Levy family says Congressman Condit's responses in the interview did little to resolve questions about his possible involvement in the Levy case. Lawyer Bill Martin was interviewed on NBC television.
"I don't want to falsely accuse anybody or prematurely accuse anybody," said the lawyer. "He is hiding something. Why he is hiding something is something we don't know. We continue to believe he has a lot of information that he can offer on Chandra's disappearance and we will continue investigating this including our investigation of the congressman."
Initial reaction among voters in Mr. Condit's central California congressional district was mixed. A local Democratic Party official said she thought he came across as honest. But others who watched the interview were clearly turned off by his comments:
"As far as our congressman and our trust in him, that is shot," said one voter.
Most political analysts believe it is too soon to judge how much damage the scandal has done to Congressman Condit's future political prospects. But political strategist Bob Beckel, speaking on ABC television, says Mr. Condit's limited responses about the nature of his relationship with Chandra Levy could hurt him politically.
"Not only did he breathe new life into the story himself, he gave the Levys and the media now reasons to continue pressing him and he gave new meaning to the word evasive," said Mr. Beckel. "I mean, in a word, it was disastrous."
Some critics contend that the news media have gone overboard in their pursuit of the Condit story, especially 24-hour cable television networks that have exhaustively followed every new development in the case.
But others defend coverage of a story that has parallels with the sex and lies scandal involving President Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky that dominated the nation's airwaves three years ago.