Condit Interview Riles Dems, Media

Rep. Gary Condit may have hoped to clear the air about his involvement with missing intern Chandra Levy and his cooperation with the investigation into her disappearance, but his media blitz has only thickened the fog.

Reaction from his constituents to Thursday night's exclusive national broadcast interview with ABCNEWS was mixed. But the interview with Connie Chung did nothing to win over the media in his California district or to convince Democrats he has any political future.

The top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, was sharply critical today in his reaction to Condit's performance, calling it "disturbing and wrong."

"I'm disappointed," Gephardt said today. "I think the most important thing in life and certainly in politics is credibility and I think, you know, if you want to be credible, you've got to be straightforward. And I think that was damaged and I'm sorry about that."

In the eyes of one Democratic consultant, Condit's career is finished.

"There were one or two nails in his coffin before last night, and as far as I'm concerned, he took the hammer and put them in," Democratic political adviser Bob Beckel said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "He's gone."

One person who did not watch the interview was President Bush, who is vacationing in Crawford, Texas. But at a news conference today, Bush said his thoughts are with Levy's parents.

"I'm not worried about the gossip, I'm worried about the facts and there's a girl missing," Bush said, making his first public comments on the matter. "Our prayers are with her parents. I have seen them on TV and I agonize for the mom and the dad and that's where my heart is."

Bush was given a quick briefing on the interview this morning by his adviser Karen Hughes and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Coming Out

Condit's interview marked a dramatic shift in strategy after nearly four months of refusing to comment publicly on his relationship with Levy.

On Tuesday, he sat down for an interview with People magazine. The following day, he mailed out at least 200,000 letters to his constituents explaining his actions. Right after talking to ABC, he granted an interview to a CBS TV station in his district. And this weekend, Newsweek will run yet another interview with the congressman.

But the media blitz appears to be doing nothing to help his situation.

"This was supposed to be Gary Condit coming out breaking his silence and he did nothing more than a calculated political maneuver and it didn't help him and it certainly didn't help the constituency in the San Joaquin Valley," said Jim Boren, editorial director of the Fresno Bee. "I can't imagine anybody thinking this was a good performance."

The Fresno Bee and the Modesto Bee, the largest newspapers in his district, have both called for Condit to resign.

"If anything he made things worse for himself," said John Ellis, a political reporter for the jointly owned papers. "I found him to be evasive, defiant and also I thought surprisingly a lack of compassion coming from him."

‘What Else Is He Hiding?’

Voters who could have the final say on Condit's political future also seemed unconvinced by his performance, even though almost no one interviewed said they believed he had anything to do with Levy's disappearance.

"He would not address the issue of just how intimate the relationship with Chandra Levy was," voter Diane Williams said. "Exactly, and that's what everyone wants to know. Just like with President Clinton, he is a member of the group that runs our state and our country and so it's like we should have the opportunity to know the truth."

"I feel like if he is hiding that kind of truth, that kind of stuff, what else is he hiding? And it doesn't really seem he's into family values and marriage and the higher morals that I believe in," local resident Ronelle Nespar said.

Others were less ready to write off their representative and even expressed sympathy for a man suddenly finding his private life making national headlines.

"I mean I understand, I don't condone what he did, but I can understand where he's trying to protect his reputation and continue his life," Michael Williams said.

"He's been a good representative for us, and as for his personal life, until he discloses something, I think we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt," Dave Grant said.