MODESTO — Rep. Gary Condit returned Friday to face an uncertain future with his California constituents, leaving behind growing unrest among his Washington colleagues.
Arriving at San Francisco’s airport, Condit began his summer congressional recess the same way he has spent most of the past three months – avoiding photographers and the reporters who wanted to question him about affairs and missing intern Chandra Levy.
He said nothing as he rolled his duffel bag toward an exit. He has not been publicly spotted since – not in Modesto at his home or office.
One senior Democrat has pronounced his career over. California’s senior senator has said he lied to her. And his partner in forming a group of conservative Democrats has accused him of discrediting Congress.
Still another California Democrat, Anna Eshoo, who had earlier defended Condit, said, “It’s hurtful to all of us. It’s held against the whole place.”
Condit has maintained his public silence about Levy, although a police source has said he admitted to an affair with the 24-year-old constituent who was in Washington for a federal internship.
Levy, 24, has been missing since early May, and police have no clues about her whereabouts. They have said that Condit is not a suspect in her disappearance, but they have interviewed him four times, taken a DNA sample and searched his apartment.
Modesto residents say they’re weary of Condit’s silence and feel betrayed by the man who portrayed himself as a politician who chooses the moral high ground.
“When this first came out, he should’ve come out with any information that could’ve helped police find the girl,” said Steve Cary, a 57-year-old merchant seaman.
Democrat Carlos DeLaRosa, 28, said he’d vote for Condit again, but thinks he’s in the minority.
“I remember him since I was a little kid,” he said. “He was always a big part of the community. I know he’s made some mistakes, but I don’t think this should affect his political career.” DeLaRosa said most of his friends and neighbors disagree. And he acknowledged that Condit’s “career is pretty much over, unfortunately.”
Condit could face a House ethics investigation into allegations that he obstructed the Levy investigation by urging other women to remain quiet. Condit denies those allegations. The House ethics committee has deferred a decision while the police investigation continues.
Meanwhile, Condit must decide whether to say anything about Levy while he is home in Modesto. His staff refused to release his schedule, and chief of staff Michael Lynch said he had no idea whether Condit would address constituents about Levy. He did not visit his office on Friday. Condit’s silence has also brought rising criticism from fellow lawmakers.
“Congressman Condit’s failure to come forward and to be fully candid, combined with the conduct involved, really does violate the public trust and affects his integrity and credibility as a legislator,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Earlier in the week, Feinstein spoke bluntly in relating a conversation in which she said Condit had denied a romantic relationship with Levy. “He lied to me,” she told McClatchy Newspapers.
Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, Condit’s seatmate on the Agriculture Committee and a co-founder with him of the Blue Dog group of conservative Democrats, issued a searing statement late last month.
“I will say that through his actions and behaviors, Congressman Condit has brought controversy and discredit to his family, his district and the Congress,” Stenholm said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Condit should have followed the advice he gave President Clinton to “tell the public everything about your private life.”
Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Fox News, “His political career as a practical matter, I assume, is gone.”
Condit, an easy winner last year, reported raising and spending in the first half of this year about as much as he did in the same period two years ago. He has said nothing about his plans.