Federal authorities have opened an initial criminal inquiry into whether Rep. Gary Condit obstructed justice or encouraged perjury in the investigation of Chandra Levy’s disappearance, law enforcement officials said today.
Authorities specifically are looking at a flight attendant’s claim that Mr. Condit urged her to sign a statement denying a 10-month affair she says they had. Anne Marie Smith also said Mr. Condit told her she did not have to cooperate with FBI agents who questioned her.
“It is in the preliminary stages, talking to witnesses and trying to determine if we should proceed further,” said one law enforcement official familiar with the matter, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Condit has denied asking anyone to lie or not cooperate with investigators who are trying to figure out what happened to Ms. Levy. He has not commented on any relationship with Ms. Smith.
Marina Ein, a spokeswoman for Mr. Condit, repeated today that he is cooperating with police in all aspects of the investigation.
Ms. Smith, 39, was interviewed yesterday and again today by FBI agents and prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office.
Law enforcement officials said the preliminary inquiry is routine when such allegations surface but prosecutors decided to join FBI agents in the initial interview of Ms. Smith because of the congressman’s profile. “What is on the plate is perjury and obstructing justice, and we must decide if these allegations have merit,” one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The search for Ms. Levy was proceeding on several fronts today, including a search of vacant buildings in the nation’s capital.
“We have to explore the possibility that she may be dead and we’re looking for the remains,” said Terrance Gainer, the city’s No. 2 police official, said on CBS’ “The Early Show.” “So we’re looking at about one-seventh of the District of Columbia right now, at abandoned buildings.”
Mr. Gainer said investigators still are working on four theories in Ms. Levy’s disappearance: that she was a victim of foul play, committed suicide, walked away voluntarily or is wandering around not knowing who she is.
Police also are negotiating with Mr. Condit’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, to set conditions under which the California Democrat would submit to a lie detector test. Mr. Condit, who police say is not a suspect in Levy’s disappearance, told authorities last week that he had a romantic relationship with the 24-year-old woman, police sources say.
“The congressman’s attorney has suggested we can get to a polygraph” test, Mr. Gainer said.