There’s a lot to learn about politics, as well as a unique take on the Chandra Levy case, from “Actual Malice,” the new book authored by Breton Peace with the cooperation of former California Congressman Gary Condit.
Though Condit and Peace use the 495-page book to give Condit’s version of the still-unsolved Levy mystery, which brought his political downfall in 2002, they also shine a light on a political career that spanned decades.
The book is loaded with details; including, for instance, the recollection that Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Howard Berman of California recommended to Condit that he hire defense attorney Abbe Lowell.
Here are five political takeaways, selected from among many and offered in advance of Condit’s appearance Thursday on the Dr. Phil television show.
How Condit found himself on the House Intelligence Committee
Condit’s seat on the secretive House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence raised some eyebrows, and sparked a few wild conspiracy theories, when Levy disappeared in 2001 and reports began circulating about their alleged relationship.
In his book, Condit recounts that during the time of the impeachment investigation into then-President Bill Clinton, he had grown fed up with the singular focus on Clinton’s private life.
Condit said he’d told House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt that he was going to resign from the House government reform committee because he “didn’t come to Congress to talk about (oral sex.)” Condit says his resignation would potentially be cast as a “negative reflection” on Clinton’s standing with Democrats.
“Instead, Gephardt arranged for Gary to be reassigned to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,” the book says. “Gary couldn’t believe his luck. He’d long contemplated making a move into international issues.”
Condit sought Vice President Dick Cheney’s help on a new University of California campus
On May 1, 2001, the day Levy disappeared, Condit was meeting with Cheney. After bringing up California’s energy situation, and sensing Cheney was uninterested, Condit turned his focus to planning for a new U.C. Merced campus in the state’s San Joaquin Valley.
“I’m concerned that the environmental issues holding up the project are out of touch with reality,” Condit explained.
Cheney, the book says, “was interested in this part of their conversation.”
Condit bluntly confronted some powerful political enemies
Co-founder of the moderate Blue Dog coalition in the House, Condit recounts that his “brand of nonpartisan politics was an existential threat to the powerful interests benefiting from a polarized body politic.”
During his time as an assemblyman in Sacramento, as well, Condit clashed with others; including as a member of what became known as the “Gang of Five” that took on then-Speaker Willie Brown. After recounting how Brown “would routinely ask, ‘Where are the good-looking women in the room?’ ” Condit tells his version of standing up to his onetime ally.
“It’s simple, Willie,” Condit recalls telling Brown. “Don’t (expletive) with me and I won’t (expletive) with you.”
There was a simple rule in politics: All of the people you climb over on your way up the ladder will be waiting to clobber you when you’re pulled down.
Breton Peace, “Actual Malice: A True Crime Political Thriller”
Condit’s congressional colleagues felt intense pressure to abandon him
As Condit’s political standing fell in the wake of Levy’s disappearance, a number of his House peers cut him loose. One leading House Democrat, Pelosi, though offering him her support, is quoted as telling Condit that “I’ve never had so much pressure in all my life in politics.”
Condit called it an “ominous statement,” and added his chief staffer was called by “a number of elected officials stating they couldn’t give Gary a formal endorsement for fear of retribution from the press.”
Condit hints at . . . something
While highly detailed in many respects, “Actual Malice” remains opaque on some questions, including the nature of some of Condit’s relationships.
Condit recounts attending the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where he was seated near a Russian woman he describes as “very pretty” with “brown hair and fair skin that melted into her white dress.” They conversed, and then she prepared to take a taxi to her hotel.
“I’ll have the driver drop you off first,” he offered.
Then, the book says, “she got out of line and followed him to the town car.”
The scene ends there.