After months of refusing to talk publicly about his relationship with Chandra Levy, a Washington intern from his congressional district who disappeared about four months ago, Congressman Gary A. Condit's much anticipated television interview Thursday night turned out to be a dud.
At the end of the 30-minute verbal gymnastics on ABC television, with veteran newswoman Connie Chung posing the questions, Condit's constituents and the American people were no closer to knowing the truth about the California representative's ties to Levy. And they are still left to wonder whether he had anything to do with her disappearance, even though he denied that he did.
The 53-year-old Condit refused to say whether he had a sexual relationship with the 24-year-old Bureau of Prisons intern, choosing instead to answer Chung's repeated question with the words, "We were very close."
What does that mean? "We had a close relationship. I liked her very much."
His refusal to go beyond such vague characterizations not only prevented any follow-up questions that may have shed some light on what took place in the days before Levy disappeared, but it transformed the news program into a 30-minute political commercial for the embattled congressman.
The television event was steeped in irony. The conservative Democratic gained national prominence when he criticized former President Bill Clinton for not being open, honest and truthful with the American people about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Condit's advice to Clinton: Come clean with the American people.
Affair: Yet, Thursday night, he adopted a Clintonesque approach to questions about his relationship with Levy, which most Americans have already determined to be an extramarital affair. "I've not been a perfect man," he told Chung. "Out of respect for my family, and out of a specific request from the Levy family, I think it's best that I not get into those details about Chandra Levy," he added.
But the fact remains that the reason the story of this woman's disappearance continues to grab headlines -- every year in this country, many young women disappear, but few attract the attention of the national media -- is the involvement of a member of Congress.
Individuals who hold public office must expect every aspect of their lives to be open to scrutiny. That's just the nature of the beast. And a member of Congress -- or a president, for that matter -- who has an affair with an intern cannot hide behind a privacy shield.
Condit denied that he has any knowledge about Chandra Levy's disappearance, but his refusal to answer direct questions about his relationship with her will certainly keep him a part of the story.