- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2001

The adage that those who don't learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them is such a well-worn cliche that it's easy to forget just how true those words are. But, at the same time, to live in Washington is to be continually reminded of their meaning.

Politicians just don't learn. In the last 30 years, and certainly in the past eight, we have been instructed ad nauseam on the low art of lying to the public to salvage a troubled political career. Richard Nixon did it, Bill Clinton did it, and now Gary Condit is doing it. In an epoch of unprecedented media scrutiny, cover-ups just don't pay. And we are again being reminded as to why.

The latest development in the evolving story of Mr. Condit's uncertain role in the disappearance of Chandra Ann Levy, a 24-year-old intern and friend of Mr. Condit, involves a year-long affair he allegedly had with a flight attendant. Enter Ann Marie Smith.

Miss Smith, 39, travels regularly from San Francisco to Washington, which is how she got to know Mr. Condit. Federal investigators recently contacted Miss Smith in connection with the Levy disappearance, a development which had Mr. Condit not altogether comfortable. So uncomfortable, indeed, that he pressured her to sign an affidavit stating that her relationship with the congressman was nothing more significant than mere acquaintance. Miss Smith refused to sign it, instead opting to go public with the news. Unsurprisingly, she has grown rather afraid since the Levy disappearance.

The pattern here is all too familiar. Scandal arises, and it's cover-up time. Typical. Politicians seem entirely unable to learn the lesson that stonewalling only arouses suspicion, and popular opinion is never as forgiving as a jury.

But Mr. Condit has done nothing to dispel suspicion that he was involved in Miss Levy's disappearance. Even her parents, who had publicly defended Mr. Condit, are now turning against him. Most notable was Linda Zamsky, Chandra's aunt, who announced last week in a substantial interview with The Washington Post that Chandra had told her she was romantically involved with Mr. Condit, a charge that he has continued to deny.

The facts don't seem to be going Mr. Condit's way. The recent bombshells of Miss Smith and the affidavit and Miss Zamsky's revelation about the nature of their niece's relationship with the congressman haven't helped. So in the meantime, we watch as Mr. Condit hides in the shadows while the skeletons from his closet empty out, bearing the distinctive mark of another ascendent political career cut down by scandal.

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