Hoping to extinguish speculation about his relationship with a missing intern, Rep. Gary Condit is launching an offensive against the media for its handling of the case.
Condit's recently hired legal team fired the first volley today in a scathing letter to Donald Graham, president of The Washington Post, and Leonard Downie, executive editor.
After laying out a series of complaints about The Post's coverage of 24-year-old Chandra Levy's disappearance, the eight-page letter demands a correction.
First and foremost, Condit and his lawyer Joseph Cotchett object to a Post report that, citing unnamed police sources, said the congressman had acknowledged letting Levy spend the night at his apartment before her disappearance. The same report quoted a Levy family member on condition of anonymity saying the woman was involved in a romance with Condit.
"This is to serve notice and request the correction for the erroneous and harmful statements set forth above," Cotchett writes.
The letter stops short of threatening to sue the paper, but it suggests the Post should focus on Levy's case as part of a trend of missing persons in Washington rather than by exploiting "one more tragic situation based on anonymous rumors."
Cotchett directly takes on Post reporter Allan Lengel, writer of the story, accusing him of making statements "the Post knew to be false or should have had serious doubts about the truth of the statements." The letter then goes on to quote Lengel pressuring a Condit aide to get police, rather than the paper, to backtrack on the story.
"Can't you get the chief to retract the statement," Lengel reportedly told Condit Chief of Staff Mike Lynch, according to the letter. "Can't you lean on the chief? … You know Congress funds the district. You control the purse strings."
Lynch said a new letter would go out Wednesday to another East Coast paper. Next week, Cotchett plans to send one to a local station in California. Last week, Lynch said Condit's team would be closely monitoring all media coverage of the issue.
"Since so much as already been distorted regarding this case, all statements published regarding this matter will be reviewed by counsel from the perspective of potential defamation litigation," Lynch said.
Condit has been a focus of press scrutiny since Levy vanished sometime after canceling a gym membership in Washington on April 30. Homicide detectives have canvassed Condit's building to see if any of his neighbors could offer any insight into her whereabouts. Police say Condit is not a suspect in her disappearance and add that no major clues have yet been discovered.
The 53-year-old, married congressman has yet to speak publicly about the Post reports, instead leaving staffers to insist that he has had no involvement in a relationship with Levy. In a prepared statement released last month, Condit referred to the woman as a "good friend" and put up a $10,000 reward for information that helped find her.
Last week, The New York Post reported that Levy's cell-phone records show she called Condit's answering service "several times" on April 29 and 30. She was last heard from on May 1.
Brian Hartman, Arianne DeVogue and Dean Norland contributed to this report.