- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

Rep. Gary A. Condit's top Washington aide last night said that his boss did not authorize him to deny that the California Democrat had been having an affair with former intern Chandra Levy when she disappeared.

Mike Dayton, Mr. Condit's Washington administrative assistant, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that he spoke without permission when he told newspapers that Mr. Condit did not have an intimate relationship with Miss Levy.

"I did, I made denials. I made emphatic denials," Mr. Dayton said. "I said what I believed to be true" at the time.

Mr. Dayton said he had never seen Mr. Condit, 53 and married, with the 24-year-old Miss Levy outside work and answered questions based on that.

The "mea culpa" came after Mr. Condit's attorney, Abbe Lowell, said his client did not authorize the repeated statements from his staff that the congressman and Miss Levy did not have an affair.

"Congressman Condit did not tell the staff to go out and lie," Mr. Lowell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The shifting of blame angered some House press secretaries.

"They threw their staff under the bus," said one aide, referring to a phrase often used on Capitol Hill to mean betrayal, sacrifice or a stab in the back.

However, one Washington veteran said the maneuver is par for the course in damage-control politics.

"The general theory in politics is that all staff are expendable," said Tony Blankley, a Republican strategist.

"Whether you are [H.R.] Haldeman or [John] Ehrlichman, the general theory is that staff throws themselves in front of the bullets to protect the boss," Mr. Blankley said, referring to aides to President Nixon.

However, Mr. Blankley, who served as press secretary for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said it is unlikely that staff would have spoken on their own without instructions from Mr. Condit.

"It's a routine thing for staff to act on their own discretion. But when the whole world is watching, you generally check with the boss first," said Mr. Blankley, who writes a weekly column for The Washington Times' op-ed page.

Mr. Dayton appeared on the CNN show with four lower-level staffers, none of whom knew Miss Levy. Despite reports that Mr. Condit's employees are resigning from his office, several of Mr. Condit's employees told Mr. King last night they are standing by their man, a possible sign that Mr. Condit is not planning a political retirement.

"We all love Gary," said Pat Austin, staff assistant.

"It's been very difficult for all of us, but we are hanging in there and hanging tough," said Jackie Mullen, executive secretary.

All but one staffer said Mr. Condit should seek re-election; Miss Mullen suggested he should retire.

But action against Mr. Condit from his peers may come as soon as next week when Congress returns from its monthlong August recess.

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt is considering formal congressional action against the California Democrat for not being candid and forthcoming in the investigation.

Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, will speak with colleagues after they return to Washington on Tuesday to discuss possible repercussions, including removing Mr. Condit from the committee assignment.

"We're going to have to deal with the issues," Mr. Gephardt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week.

A spokesman for Mr. Gephardt said discussions with fellow Democrats will be an "informal process."

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has not received formal notification of any plan to strip Mr. Condit of his assignment, said a spokesman for the Illinois Republican.

Removing Mr. Condit from the committee, however, "won't stop the bleeding and may cause more wounding" of Mr. Condit's ability to perform his job, said one House leadership aide.

"It has got to hurt his ability to communicate with other members," the aide said.

"These members spend all day and night concerned about their image. They are all up for re-election and they don't want to appear on the Fox News Channel three times a day standing next to Gary Condit," the aide said.

Republicans say the decision is up to Mr. Gephardt, but Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the panel's ranking Democrat, may not back Mr. Condit's removal.

Republican aides say Mrs. Pelosi, who is running for a House leadership post, might not want to send a message to her colleagues that she is only a fair-weather friend.

Calls to Mr. Condit's and Mrs. Pelosi's offices seeking comment were not returned.

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