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Who is Gary Condit?

Aired July 28, 2001 - 11:30   ET



ANNOUNCER (voice-over): A congressman awash in controversy over his involvement with missing intern Chandra Levy.

SUSAN LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S MOTHER: I appreciate anyone and everyone helping me bring my daughter back.

ANNOUNCER: From rural Oklahoma and a family of fundamentalist preachers to a meteoric rise in California politics.

JEFF BENZINGER, "CERES COURIER": Gary Condit is almost a mini- god here in the political sense. He has a lot of support. He has a reputation of being the hometown boy that made good.

REP. GARY CONDIT (D), CALIFORNIA: You working hard already?


ANNOUNCER: A reputation that's now being called into question. The contradictory life of Congressman Gary Condit. His story now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.


DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

He is at the center of a media blitz over the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy. But just who is Gary Condit?

From his upbringing in a family of fundamentalist preachers to nagging questions about his past, we now trace the life of the congressman caught in the public spotlight.

Here is David Mattingly.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Gary Condit, it has come to this: the seven-term California congressman held hostage by the media, his every move watched, his every statement second-guessed.

QUESTION: Mr. Condit, why not (OFF-MIKE)

REP. CHRIS SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: It's just an incredible lesson. You need to tell the truth, and if you don't tell the truth then everything else you say is called into question.

MATTINGLY: Gary Condit hasn't said anything in public since he was first linked to Chandra Levy, the 24-year-old intern who vanished on May 1. But the questions haven't stopped coming.

QUESTION: Mr. Condit, do you know anything about where Chandra Levy is?

MATTINGLY: What Condit first told police and what his staff later said about his relationship with Chandra Levy only raised more questions.

S. LEVY: I don't feel he's been very truthful to me. There are certain things that Mr. Condit did not come forth in the very beginning of this when I first called him.

MATTINGLY: As police look for Chandra Levy, they say Gary Condit is not a suspect in her disappearance. Friends and colleagues warn the public not to jump to conclusions.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: I know one thing for sure: that Gary Condit did not have anything to do with the disappearance of Chandra Levy.

MATTINGLY: Whatever the outcome of the search for Chandra Levy, the public face of Gary Condit, the man who campaigned on the slogan, "Setting a good example," will never be the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your conscience can be pricked by the Spirit of God. We must pray daily, pray without ceasing.

MATTINGLY: Setting a good example was something ingrained in Condit at a very early age. Son to generations of fundamentalist Baptist preachers, Gary Condit was born on April 21, 1948, in Woodland Junction, a small town of about 50 nestled in the scenic hills of northeastern Oklahoma.

CAROL JUNE BACK, COUSIN: Woodland Junction was basically just a small country store. The only thing else that was there was a school and Little Rock Church. And that was it.

MATTINGLY: And it was here, at Little Rock Church, that Gary's father, Reverend Adrian Condit, delivered passionate sermons. Gary's cousin Carol June Back remembers the Reverend Condit as a charismatic man.

BACK: He was lively, and sometimes, you know, he might be preaching, and he might, you know, sing a song, you know, if he gets to feeling like he wants to.

MATTINGLY: Gary Condit came from a close-knit family. There was his mother, Jean, a homemaker, brothers Burl and Daryl (ph), and little sister, Dovie (ph). Several aunts, uncles, and cousins lived nearby.

BACK: We all had stick horses, which we played with, and just, you know, did all of those kinds of -- we didn't have a lot of, you know, toys like kids do today, but we had a lot of fun.

MARLENE PHILPOT, COUSIN: Well, Gene was more of a cut-up than Gary was, just regular boys. They never did ever give him any trouble growing up.

MATTINGLY: Although Condit's home town, a rural farming community 45 miles east of Tulsa, attracted dairy farmers, cattle ranchers, and moonshiners, it is the church that has kept Gary Condit's family deep in the heart of the Bible Belt for over 100 years.

BACK: We're kind of the Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night service kind of people. We just -- we go, and we do.

MATTINGLY: There was not much time for socializing. The fundamentalist Baptist church strictly prohibits dancing and drinking.

PHILPOT: Most all your social stuff was just at the schoolhouse or the church, you know. We didn't do a lot of other social activity.

MATTINGLY: When Gary was 14, the Condit family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city that offered more opportunity and more Baptist churches, including this one, where Adrian Condit preached for five years. The Condits lived in this house next to the church.

Classmate Shirleen Cummins took several classes with Condit at Nathan Hale High School. She described him as an average student.

SHIRLEEN CUMMINS, CLASSMATE: But he seemed to be a very well- rounded student, in that he had -- academics were important, but so was socializing and having a good time.

MATTINGLY: It was also at Nathan Hale High School that Gary met Carolyn Berry, a pretty girl on the high school pep squad.

CUMMINS: She was a very pleasant person, very nice, she was a good student.

MATTINGLY: In 1967, the high school sweethearts married in Miami (ph), Oklahoma, 90 miles east of Tulsa, when they were both just 18. At the time, men in Oklahoma had to be 21 to get married, and women 18. Ottawa County records show Condit claimed he was born in 1942, adding seven years to his age on the marriage application.

The couple had their first child, a son they named Chad, in July 1967. That same year, with news of a booming economy in California, the Reverend Adrian Condit ventured further West. He became pastor of the Village Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Ceres, California.

BACK: Part of the calling is, you know, you go basically where God leads you, and that's the way he did it.

MATTINGLY: The 19-year-old newlyweds soon followed, eager to explore new territory.

When we come back, Gary Condit's early political career and nagging questions about his character.

MAYOR CARMEN SABATINO, MODESTO, CALIFORNIA: The rumors have been there for 20 years, but they were exactly that, rumors.


KAGAN: Just ahead, Gary Condit rockets to political prominence.

But first, a look at other people in the news. Here's this week's "Passages."


ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Ms. Harris goes to Washington, maybe. Florida Secretary of State and election 2000 recount queen Katherine Harris is getting ready for a congressional run in 2002, according to GOP officials. Harris would be chasing the soon-to-be-vacant seat in Florida's 13th district. Although not officially entered in the race, she feels confident she could make a difference in Congress.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty died Monday. She was 92. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Welty wrote often about relationships, with a distinctive Southern flair. She had her first story published in 1936 and won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel "The Optimist's Daughter."

Singer Bonnie Raitt is giving us something to talk about. She was among 20 people arrested for staging a demonstration outside of a Chicago-area office product company Wednesday. The peaceful sit-in was a protest against the company's logging practices. Raitt was charged with disorderly conduct and released from city jail.

To get more celebrity news in a nick of time, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week.

We'll be right back.





MATTINGLY (voice-over): They call it Condit country. It's here, tucked among the fruit orchards and small businesses of central California, that Gary Condit staked out his political career, a career that began when the 19-year-old moved his family out West.

The Condits found refuge in the rural town of Ceres, California, a sleepy neighborhood about 100 miles east of San Francisco. JEFF BENZINGER, "CERES COURIER": There's probably a great deal of similarity between this area and Oklahoma. This is a farm belt, this is a conservative area. So I guess in that respect, he fit in just great.

MATTINGLY: He was a husband and a father before he ever received his college degree, graduating in 1972 from nearby California State University.

It was on campus that the young Condit realized his passion for politics. At 23, he decided to run for local office. To his surprise, he won. The man with the firm shake and golden smile was now a city council board member.

BENZINGER: People have glowing praise of him. Seems like anybody's son, maybe your neighbor's son, somebody that you could trust.

MATTINGLY: He wasn't the only Condit gaining attention in the neighborhood. His older brother, Burl, became a respected cop, enforcing the law, while their younger brother, Daryl, ran into problems with the law, serving time for drug possession.

Brother Gary was on the political fast track. In 1974, Condit was elected mayor, one of the youngest in state history.

SANDRA LUCAS, STANISLAUS COUNTY DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE: You know, he started off on the Ceres city council, moved -- you know, worked his way up. People have been able to touch him at every step as he's moved up the ladder.

MATTINGLY: By 1983, the 35-year-old was elected to the state assembly. He split his time between Sacramento and his home town, where his wife and two children remained behind.

CHARLES CALDERON, FORMER CALIFORNIA MAJORITY LEADER: He was fiercely loyal, fiercely loyal to the valley and proud to be from the valley.

MATTINGLY: Charles Calderon was in the same freshman class with Condit in the mid-'80s, working closely together in the California state assembly.

CALDERON: We were a generation, baby-boom generation, we were young, relatively speaking. And so I think that ultimately was sort of the common ground that brought us together, when issues started to arrive.

MATTINGLY: They partnered up with three other moderate Democrats and openly challenged the liberal leadership of the assembly's powerful speaker, Willy Brown. They called themselves the Five Amigos, but the press dubbed them the Gang of Five.


CONDIT: We need a leader, not a dealer, and that's what this is about.


KAGAN: Condit soon became an influential player in California state politics, a power he played on outside the halls of the state assembly. According to Calderon, while Condit's family was back in his home district, Condit could often be seen night after night socializing at his favorite bar and restaurant.

CALDERON: I suppose I'm very flirtatious, you know, at a restaurant, when you -- if you -- you know, you get familiar with the staff, and we were familiar with the staff at a restaurant called Paraguay's (ph).

SABATINO: The rumors have been there for 20 years, but they were exactly that, rumors.

MATTINGLY: Condit's former driver says he saw another side to Gary Condit.

VINCE FLAMMINI, FORMER CONDIT DRIVER: All the assemblymen he used to work for in Sacramento, they all knew Gary was a ladies' man. But nobody actually seen him do anything.

CALDERON: Was he very flirtatious? I don't think any more or any less than anybody else. I mean, he would, you know, be familiar, crack jokes, so would I. We'd interact with the staff over there.

MATTINGLY: While Condit's Gang of Five failed to topple Willy Brown, back home, he was considered a success.


I'm Assemblyman Gary Condit...


MATTINGLY: Condit seized his hometown momentum and ran in a special election in 1989 for Congress.

CALDERON: He was being encouraged by the congressional Democrats to run because he was believed to be the only one that could hold onto that seat.


CONDIT: We're going to do well. If we have a high turnout, we're going to win today.


MATTINGLY: He won handily.


CONDIT: I'm going to bring the valley values to Washington, D.C. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BENZINGER: Gary Condit is almost a mini-god here in the political sense. He has that reputation of being the hometown boy that made good.

MATTINGLY: To the locals, Gary Condit was a reliable brand, a sure thing. He has never lost an election.

SABATINO: I think he does his constituent work. His staff has been with him forever. When you win an election by 70 percent, you have a lot of friends.

MATTINGLY: Condit's life on Capitol Hill was a far cry from the rural surroundings he had known before. He purchased a condo in the trendy Adams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. His wife, Carolyn, who has suffered from migraine-like headaches, once again stayed behind with the children.

Life alone on Capitol Hill afforded the congressman an easy- riding lifestyle. He loved to ride his Harley. He once found himself in a mosh pit at a Pearl Jam concert. Condit was even featured in a calendar spoof of the Hill's Hunkiest Lawmen, Mr. June.

CONDIT: I'm Gary Condit.

MATTINGLY: On the political front, the conservative Democrat formed the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 20-plus members who often break with party lines to support Republican-sponsored bills.

CONDIT: We're busy meeting with whoever we can whenever we can to try to convince people that you got to bring this whole dialogue (inaudible) to the center.

MATTINGLY: In 1994, there was suspicion that he would switch parties altogether after the Republican Party took control of Congress. But Condit remained firm. The same can be said of his reputation.

CALDERON: I've always looked at him as kind of a Gary Cooper type, and -- because he's got that folksy way about him, and he's got a good sense of people, he's got a good read on people. You know, he really has a feel for the underdog.

LUCAS: People are very proud of our local boy went to Congress. They feel they know him.

MATTINGLY: Or do they? When we return to the story of Gary Condit, a missing intern, a congressman, and the scandal that won't go away.

CALDERON: It's almost surreal -- that it's not even happening. That's not Gary, even though it's Gary's picture on there, that's still somebody else.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KAGAN: Coming up, scandal swamps Gary Condit.

But first, an update on a public figure who scuttled his political career. Here's this week's 'Where Are They Now?"


ANNOUNCER (voice-over): In 1987, another Western Democrat saw his political future questioned because of some monkey business, one- time presidential hopeful and former U.S. Senator Gary Hart.

So where is Gary Hart now? Hart is a lawyer who now specializes in international law. Though out of the public eye, he writes about politics and democracy under the alias John Blackthorne. He was also the keynote speaker of the 2000 Democratic shadow convention criticizing the party he once served.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will continue after this.





MATTINGLY (voice-over): On April 30, President Bush marked 100 days in office.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Today marks our 100th day of working together for the American people.

MATTINGLY: And Gary Condit's political fortunes were riding high.

BUSH: Thanks for your service. God bless.

MATTINGLY: The Blue Dog Democrat was one of the pillars in the new administration's plan to build bipartisanship. But within days, the California congressman's political life would begin to unravel, for April 30 was also the last day anyone saw Chandra Levy.

Gary Condit's troubles began rather innocuously on May 11, when news of Levy's disappearance was first reported in "The Washington Post." The seven-paragraph story focused simply on a missing intern and didn't mention Condit. But it wasn't long before he was drawn into the Levy drama.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A member of Congress has been questioned in the case...

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": ... a relationship between a missing Washington intern and her U.S. congressman from California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Congressman Gary Condit, who's described their daughter as "a close friend."



CHANDRA LEVY: Happy birthday, love uncle Palmer (ph).


MATTINGLY: Within no time, rumors are swirling in the press and on the Internet about Condit's relationship with the missing 24-year- old intern from his district. Contacted by her parents for help, Condit pledges $10,000 in reward money from his campaign coffers and issues a statement describing Chandra Levy as "a great person and a good friend."

S. LEVY: ... anyone and everyone helping me bring my daughter back...

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm sure Senator Boxer's staff will join in doing this too.

MATTINGLY: When Levy's parents come to Washington to publicize her case, they get support from California's senior senator, who downplays the Condit-Levy connection.

FEINSTEIN: To my knowledge, there is no linkage other than the fact that they were friends.

MATTINGLY: By early June, it's becoming apparent that Condit and Levy are more than just friends. On June 7, as Condit attends the signing of the new tax bill at the White House, there are reports that he told police that Levy spent the night at his apartment. His office flatly denies this. Police refuse comment.

CHIEF CHARLES RAMSEY, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE: We don't talk specifically about any information we get from people who we're interviewing regarding this. I can say this, we don't have anything that connects the congressman with her disappearance.

MATTINGLY: At the same time, Levy's parents are back on the East Coast, making another round of appeals. Publicly, anyway, they refuse to implicate Congressman Condit.

S. LEVY: I want to keep this story about finding Chandra, not on some kind of scandal or story that sounds like a, you know, Monica thing.

MATTINGLY: But by now, this has become a Monica thing. As Condit maintains his silence, the press smells blood, sensing that Condit, like Bill Clinton before him, hasn't been entirely truthful about his relationship with the young intern.

With Levy now missing six weeks, it seems like there is only one man in the viewfinder, Gary Condit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gary Condit, resign! Do the right thing, get out.

MATTINGLY: Faced with mounting questions, Congressman Condit's staff again denies a romantic relationship. But even supporters back home are growing impatient.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Liar, liar, pants on fire, liar, liar pants on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave her alone!

MATTINGLY: As with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, damaging details seem to trickle out one after the other. Condit refuses to respond in the face of new revelations, ironically, the very thing Condit criticized President Clinton for during the Monica mess.


CONDIT: This is kind of the drip, drip, drip theory. I mean, you know, they released the tape today, it comes out Monday. This week it's the videotape, next week it's another document.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Condit, can you tell us anything, sir?

MATTINGLY: For Condit, the steady drip turns into a torrent the first week of July.

ABBE LOWELL, CONDIT'S ATTORNEY: And you're staking out the Condit family house, you're staking out the Condit family's -- the kids' house. And I'm not answering questions in alleyways and in streets and in the way to my car.

MATTINGLY: A United Airlines flight attendant claims she had an 11-month affair with Condit.


ANNE MARIE SMITH, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: We'd meet in Washington, I would fly out there, or I would meet him in California.


MATTINGLY: Anne Marie Smith also says Condit asked her to sign an affidavit denying the relationship, and that he urged her not to talk to the FBI following Levy's disappearance. Condit denies this but hasn't denied the affair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a statement here, if anybody wants it.

MATTINGLY: Three days later, Chandra Levy's aunt claims her niece confided in her that she and Condit were having an affair. Within 24 hours, Condit meets with police for a third time, and police sources say he finally admits he had a romantic relationship with the missing intern.

LOWELL: The congressman will provide whatever additional information or material he can to the police. This includes access to his apartment, telephone or cell phone records, a request that his entire staff make themselves available...

MATTINGLY: Condit agrees to let police search his apartment. But hours beforehand, police say he was spotted throwing out a gift box he had received from another woman. A top Condit aide denies her reported claim that he told her not to talk to law enforcement about an alleged affair.

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Sooner or later, the truth is going to out. And I think what, unfortunately, Congressman Condit has done here is create an impression that he's unwilling to cooperate with the authorities, which in turn leads to a suspicion of some kind of culpability.

MATTINGLY: Condit's legal fate is still up in the air. As for his political fate, pundits are already burying him.

STUART ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: His career's over as an elected official. I mean, I think he is severely damaged with the voters back home. I think the press won't trust him. I mean, this is a guy who self-destructed, he really did this to himself.

MATTINGLY: But friends in California say if Bill Clinton survived Monica Lewinsky, it's far too early to write Gary Condit's political obituary.

CALDERON: I think things are going to change significantly in terms of Gary. He's very well liked in this district. You're not going to abandon him just because there are all these stories in the media.


KAGAN: But in a recent survey of Condit's home district by CBS News, 53 percent said they would not vote for him again. Only 24 percent said they would.

For more on Gary Condit, visit our Web site at

Next week, we take a turn on the ice with world figure skating champ Michelle Kwan.

I'm Daryn Kagan. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, thanks for watching.



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