Courts & Crime

On witness stand, Condit refuses to describe Levy relationship

Gary Condit in 2001.
Gary Condit in 2001. Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON _ Former California congressman Gary Condit on Monday repeatedly refused to say whether he had an “intimate” relationship with the late Chandra Levy but vigorously insisted he had nothing to do with her murder.

“I didn’t commit any crime, and I didn’t do any harm,” Condit said.

In an extended, dramatic courtroom confrontation, Condit acknowledged that he used to see Levy or talk with her “a few times a week.” He added, under sharp questioning, that “she came by the apartment a few times.”

Despite a sharply worded cross-examination, though, he didn't further describe Levy as anything more than a friend.

“You had an intimate relationship with Ms. Levy, right?” defense attorney Maria Hawilo asked.

“I’m not going to respond to those types of questions, based on my privacy and Chandra’s privacy,” Condit.

Hawilo tried asking similar questions multiple times during her hour-long cross-examination. Each time, Condit cited privacy concerns in staying mum, and D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher didn't compel him to answer.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines Condit appeared on the fifth day of testimony during the trial of the man accused of killing Levy. Prosecutors say Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted sexual assault in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

All told, interrupted by an hour-long lunch period, Condit was on the stand for about two hours late Monday morning and early Monday afternoon. He frequently challenged Hawilo’s phrasing, telling her at one point that “I don’t know what you mean by ‘relationship’” and at another point saying he didn’t know what she meant in saying he knew Levy “pretty well.”

Chandra Levy’s mother, Susan Levy, a Modesto resident, sat in the third row of the courtroom throughout the testimony, occasionally taking notes.

Condit departed the courthouse midafternoon amid a phalanx of attorneys and D.C. detectives, slipping out the back door and entering a white Impala without saying a word.

Condit’s daughter, Cadee Condit, lightly held onto the sleeve of his sport coat as they departed the courthouse. Earlier, she had sat through his testimony, next to San Diego-based attorney Thomas Warwick Jr. Warwick, who was recently hired to represent to represent Condit, politely declined to comment after the testimony, citing a judge’s gag order.

At the time of her disappearance, the 24-year-old Levy had finished graduate studies and a Bureau of Prisons internship and was preparing to return to California. Testimony last week revealed Levy had been planning to travel cross-country by Amtrak starting on May 5.

Condit’s testimony marked a rare public appearance by the 62-year-old former politician. Since losing his House seat in 2002, Condit has largely laid low save for an occasional defamation lawsuit filed against tabloid newspapers and commentators.

“I’m pretty much retired,” Condit said, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines asked his profession.

Prosecutors summoned Condit pre-emptively, knowing that Guandique’s defense attorneys are trying to insinuate that Condit might somehow be involved in Levy’s disappearance. Condit’s occasionally impassioned testimony, starting a little before noon on Monday, made clear his dismay that investigators, too, once considered him suspicious.

“I didn’t trust them anymore,” Condit testified, recalling his early dealings with Washington police. He added, “Everyone I was dealing with was telling stories, leaking information, and most of what they were saying was untrue.”

Condit said his distrust of Washington police was so intense that he eventually hired a stenographer to take verbatim notes of interviews. The distrust further drove him to take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify during an April 2002 grand jury hearing, in which he was the subject of an obstruction of justice investigation.

“I had just been beaten down,” Condit said, and “I didn’t trust this (prosecutor). I had just about had it with law enforcement in Washington, D.C.”

Condit’s anger further flared Monday when he denounced the testimony last week by a Washington detective who claimed Condit had falsely denied being sexually involved with Levy. Condit said he never answered the question in his first interview with police, held in his Washington apartment the evening of May 9, 2001.

“(A detective) asked, ‘Did you have a sexual relationship with Ms. Levy,’” Condit said, recalling the initial police interview. “I said if you can tell me why you think that’s relevant, I will be glad to answer your question.”

The detective subsequently “sat there silent,” Condit recalled.

Repeating what he has previously said in public, Condit said he first met Levy in October 2000. He said she would “come by the office" or talk by phone with him "a few times a week."

Investigators held a total of four interviews with Condit during 2001. One of them, he said, “blew up” after investigators “wanted to talk about (my) sexual involvement with a number of women.” Condit said he later had a more satisfying meeting with FBI agents.

Hawilo pressed Condit to acknowledge that he eventually told police his sexual relationship with Levy ended in March 2001, but he declined to answer. Instead, Condit turned the question around to say "my friendship" never ended.

Condit testified that he last saw Levy when she unexpectedly showed up at his apartment door on the morning of April 24. He said she wanted help with her career aspirations in law enforcement.

Condit said he later talked with Levy on April 29, concerning help with job interviews. On May 2 or May 3, after she disappeared, he called her home two more times and left messages. Prosecutors played tapes of those final calls Monday.

“Give me a call (and) give me a rundown of what your schedule is,” Condit said, on the message recorded at 10:43 in the morning by Levy’s message machine. “Things are looking pretty good for me today.”