There might have been some way for Gary Condit to have made a bigger hash of his comeback tour last week, but it's hard to see how. If the Congressman was hoping to sound contrite about his relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy, he might have tried saying he was sorry. If his handlers wanted him to appear likable, he needed first to appear human. And if he was trying to appear unjustly accused, it would have helped not to accuse everyone else. An old trial lawyer's rule holds that a defendant can get away with calling one witness a liar. Two people--maybe. More than that, and the jury will figure, rightly or wrongly, that you're the liar.
Mrs. Levy claims Condit denied to her that he had had an affair with her daughter? She must have "misunderstood the conversation," he told Connie Chung last Thursday. The police say he bobbed and weaved through the first two interrogations? "I'm puzzled by why the police chief would say that," he replied. A flight attendant claims he wanted her to lie about their affair on a false affidavit? "I'm puzzled by people who take advantage of tragedy." Chandra's aunt says he was obsessive about secrecy? "I don't know why the aunt would say that."
It sure was a strange way to launch a rehabilitation, as one of his advisers later admitted. The Levy family began firing back within an hour. Lawyer Billy Martin appeared on Nightline to shred Condit's claim that the Levys made a "specific request" that he not discuss the details of the relationship. "Ted, he's hiding," Martin said, "and I wish he would answer the question. What was his relationship with Chandra?" D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey was subtler. "One could say that he answered every question that Connie Chung asked him; he answered every question that we asked him," Ramsey noted. "Now it's up to the others to decide whether or not that's forthcoming."
Even people who had nervously stood by Condit's side for weeks were beginning to bail. After watching Condit's network-TV performance at a supporter's house in suburban St. Louis, Mo., House minority leader Dick Gephardt shook his head and said over and over to aides, "I can't believe he's not being more candid. I can't believe he's not taking responsibility." In a press conference the next day, he called Condit's evasions "disturbing and wrong."
Closer to home, where a Democratically held seat is twisting in the wind, the reaction was bleaker. Roberta Elstad, a retired Postal Service computer operator in Modesto, Calif., concluded, "It's over. I think he came out of this in worse shape than he went into it." Said Carl Kelly, a Modesto steelworker: "Let me put it to you this way: I didn't believe him before. I don't believe him now. I believe he knows something, I just don't know exactly what."