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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2001

Sex, lies, and a missing intern

Searching Congressman Gary Condit's Washington apartment more than 10 weeks after the disappearance of Chandra Levy seemed more like a pro forma step than investigative necessity for District of Columbia police, who are under increasing pressure to solve this summer's juicy-and-getting-juicier case of the missing intern.

“What took them so long?” is the logical question, of course, but there are hundreds of missing-person reports at any given time in the nation's capital, so police can't be faulted for not jumping into this one instantly in early May, even though Ms. Levy was known at the time to be acquainted with the House member from Ceres, Calif.

However, even after it had been reasonably well established that Mr. Condit was hiding the nature of his relationship with the 24-year-old woman, top police officials seemed to be taking a kid-gloves attitude with the congressman that was far more deferential than it should have been.

They waited four days from the time he finally admitted an affair with Ms. Levy until the search of his apartment was commenced. What did they expect to find at that late date? Any evidence of Ms. Levy, living or dead, certainly would have long since been expunged from the scene.

Notwithstanding any advice to keep quiet that his lawyers might have given, Mr. Condit appears guilty - at least in the court of public opinion - of obstructing justice by failing to come clean about his relationship with the young woman until his third round of questioning by authorities. Over the 21/2-month period, he did not make any statement to his constituents in California's central valley, eroding hometown support for the popular conservative Democrat.

The facts that presented themselves almost immediately after Ms. Levy was reported missing on April 30 would seem to require less than the talents of a top detective to establish significant suspicion: An attractive, unmarried 24-year-old woman, wrapping up an internship with a government agency far from home, is the admitted “good friend” of a 53-year-old congressman with a wife who, due to a debilitating illness, rarely comes to Washington.

Add the statement by Ms. Levy's aunt that the young woman talked of her affair with Mr. Condit, and the disclosure by an airline flight attendant that she had just ended a year-long affair with the congressman, and it's pretty clear that something was going on.

Perhaps the frequency with which politicians have become mired in Adulterygate in Washington over the past few years has made hard-nosed cynicism inevitable on the part of the public.

Police, on the other hand, are paid to be suspicious and skeptical in the extreme. Should they have moved sooner to thoroughly investigate Ms. Levy's disappearance? Yes. Would that have made any difference? Not necessarily.

But with each passing day that Ms. Levy remains missing, it becomes less likely that this story will have a happy ending. Mr. Condit's stonewalling and police pussyfooting haven't helped.

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