Top aide defends Condit amid resignation calls
MODESTO, California (CNN) -- California Rep. Gary Condit on Monday rejected calls for his resignation by two California newspapers, and Condit's chief of staff said the congressman plans a public statement soon.
The Modesto Bee, in Condit's congressional district, and sister paper The Fresno Bee said the congressman's conduct regarding the disappearance of former Washington intern Chandra Levy was unacceptable and a violation of the public trust.
"For 15 weeks, Condit has put his own interests ahead of the effort to find Levy," the Modesto Bee editorialized. "His self-absorption has been a lapse not only of judgment, but of human decency.
"With Levy's life at stake, Condit knowingly hindered -- if not obstructed -- the police investigation into her disappearance, letting the trail grow cold."
Condit hit back in a written statement Sunday in which he promised he would provide his own account to the public. And his chief of staff, Mike Lynch, told CNN that Condit has cooperated fully with the police and has no plans to step down.
"The police have said since day one that Congressman Condit has no link to the disappearance of Chandra Levy," Lynch said in an appearance on CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports." "They have said from day one that he has been fully forthcoming with information related to the disappearance. They have said all that stuff. You guys in the press, not you guys but many of the people in the press, just don't print it."
Lynch said the intense interest in Condit's personal life from news outlets is a "lot of smoke" obscuring the facts in Levy's disappearance.
Levy, a former Bureau of Prisons intern from Modesto, was last seen April 30 in Washington. Her family has said that she was romantically involved with Condit, a 52-year-old, married Democrat.
Publicly, Condit has said the 24-year-old Levy was a "good friend," but law enforcement sources said he admitted to an affair with Levy during his third interview with police.
In a written statement Sunday night, the seven-term congressman said he would rely on his constituents to render judgment on his actions. He said he plans to make his statement "very soon."
"I am hopeful that my neighbors and constituents will be more understanding of the complexities of this case and will be more respectful of the process," he said.
Police have said that Condit is not a suspect in Levy's disappearance, but Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey and Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer have said they wished Condit had been more forthcoming early in the investigation.
Condit was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1988. He is back home for the August congressional recess but has made no public appearances. Lynch said Condit will make a public statement on Levy's disappearance "sooner rather than later."
"But let me make very clear this is not a change in Congressman Condit's position or strategy," Lynch told CNN. "He has said from the beginning of this issue, and the beginning of the inquiries, that at the appropriate time in the investigation, he would do it through the appropriate venue and to the appropriate people."
He criticized the Bee for calling for Condit's resignation before he offered a public explanation.
"We thought the Bee was going to be a little bit more objective throughout this. They seem to have lost that objectivity," Lynch said.
In Modesto, Levy's parents avoided comment on the editorials calling for Condit's resignation.
"I am not entering any political arena," Susan Levy said. "I am a mother who is just wanting to have my daughter home."
The Modesto newspaper said Condit was under federal investigation for alleged obstruction of justice and could no longer "effectively represent" the area. It noted that the newspaper had been an enthusiastic supporter of Condit in the past but vowed the paper would "almost certainly never endorse him again."
The Fresno Bee editorial echoed that sentiment. "For as long as Gary Condit has been in Congress, this newspaper has been his enthusiastic supporter. We sometimes disagreed with him on policy issues, but we always believed his independent brand of politics served his San Joaquin Valley district well."
Both newspapers are owned by the McClatchy Co.
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