- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2010

Former Rep. Gary A. Condit, the California Democrat whose political career was ruined in the wake of the disappearance of D.C. intern Chandra Levy, testified Monday that investigators in the case tried to railroad him.

But Mr. Condit, who said he is retired, wouldn’t explain the exact nature of his relationship with Levy, whose remains were found in Rock Creek Park about a year after her 2001 disappearance.

“We’re all entitled to some level of privacy,” Mr. Condit testified during the second week of testimony in the trial of Ingmar Guandique, the accused killer in the Levy case. “It seems like in this country we’ve lost a sense of decency. I didn’t commit any crime; I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.”

Guandique, an illegal Salvadoran immigrant and a reputed member of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, is charged with attacking and killing Levy as she jogged through Rock Creek Park.

Prosecutors are building a circumstantial case against Guandique through the accounts of women Guandique attacked in Rock Creek Park about the time of Levy’s disappearance and the testimony of jailhouse informants who say Guandique confessed to the killing.

Guandique’s attorneys, who note that the case lacks physical evidence and eyewitnesses, say their client is a convenient “scapegoat” for prosecutors seeking to salvage a bungled investigation. Much of that bungling is the result of the fixation of investigators with Mr. Condit, who was married and apparently carrying on an affair with the 24-year-old intern.

Prosecutors have acknowledged that investigators became so obsessed with building a case against a sitting congressman that they allowed Guandique to essentially hide in plain sight.

In the summer of 2001, the case became a media sensation in large part because of law enforcement leaks and insinuations that Mr. Condit was responsible for Levy’s disappearance and, possibly, her death. No evidence ever emerged linking Mr. Condit to the crime, and prosecutors now say he was not involved.

Police have said Mr. Condit did not fully cooperate with investigators, a charge he vehemently denied Monday. Mr. Condit said he refused to answer only one question investigators posed: Did he have a sexual relationship with Levy?

“If you can tell me why that’s relevant, I can answer the question,” Mr. Condit recalled telling investigators.

Mr. Condit said he worried that the investigators were “incompetent” and contacted police at the urging of Levy’s father because he wanted to make sure they were taking the case seriously.

Prosecutor Amanda Haines never asked Mr. Condit whether he and Levy had an affair, but did ask why he never acknowledged an affair. His voice broke slightly, and he said it was “purely based on principle.”

On cross-examination, public defender Maria Hawilo put the question to Mr. Condit directly: “Did you ever have an intimate relationship with Levy?”

“I have already stated I’m not going to respond to those questions,” Mr. Condit said.

Ms. Hawilo persisted until Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher told her to move on.

The issue came up repeatedly throughout the cross-examination, with Ms. Hawilo asking at one point: “Are you refusing to respond because you think the answer will incriminate you?”

At another point, Ms. Hawilo suggested that Mr. Condit failed to give police the whole truth about his relationship. Police asked him in one interview, “What was the nature of your relationship with Miss Levy?” Mr. Condit responded that he was friends with her. He insisted he gave the full truth to police but declined to answer whether he equated a sexual relationship with friendship.

The judge eventually rubbed his face in frustration and called the attorneys for a bench conference. He never required Mr. Condit to answer the question directly about his relationship with Levy.

Throughout his testimony, Mr. Condit referred to police investigators whom he said were hounding him unfairly and refusing to believe legitimate alibis he provided to them. He constantly referred to the media attention as a “circus” and said investigators were “out of line” when they demanded to interview his wife.

Mr. Condit also became emotional when he described how the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks wiped his name from the headlines. He said 100 reporters were staking out his apartment that morning. After the planes hit, they were all gone.

At the end of his direct testimony, Ms. Haines asked Mr. Condit directly: “Did you murder Chandra Levy?” He responded, “No.” He also responded “No, ma’am” to the question of whether he had anything to do with her disappearance.

Mr. Condit testified that he last saw Levy a week before she disappeared and they discussed whether he could help her make some contacts with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies where she hoped to work. Mr. Condit told her he would help.

“We never had a fight. We never had any cross words,” he said.

Mr. Condit was dressed in a blue oxford shirt and a sport coat, his hair now completely gray.

In the courtroom, taking careful notes on his testimony, was Levy’s mother, Susan Levy, who has been in the courtroom throughout the trial and was fiercely critical of Mr. Condit throughout the investigation.

During Monday’s cross-examination, Ms. Hawilo questioned Mr. Condit’s assertion that he had been fully cooperative. She asked why he invoked the Fifth Amendment in a grand jury interview in April 2002 and suggested that he was worried about incriminating himself.

Mr. Condit testified that he was despondent because he had just lost his primary re-election campaign and he thought the prosecutor “was there to do what he could to try to trick me or cause me pain.”

Mr. Condit left the courthouse, joined by his daughter, and did not answer any questions. Mrs. Levy also declined to comment through her attorney.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.