(Published: Friday, July 06, 2001)
WASHINGTON -- Chandra Levy's aunt Thursday said her niece provided her with an extensive account of a relationship with Rep. Gary Condit, describing how the congressman went to great lengths to keep the liaison a secret and explicitly warned that he would stop seeing her if she told anyone.
Linda Zamsky's account of the relationship is based on conversations and meetings she said she had with Levy since fall, when the 24-year-old intern at the Bureau of Prisons first told Zamsky that she was having a relationship with Condit. Zamsky, who became Levy's confidante, said she is speaking out publicly out of frustration with Condit, whose aides have adamantly denied the existence of a romantic relationship.
"He was emphatic," Zamsky, relaying her conversations with Levy, said of Condit's caution. "It had to remain secret.
"If anybody found out about this relationship, it was done, over, kaput."
Condit's denials contradicted
Zamsky's account places Condit at the center of Levy's life in Washington -- a married man who gave her gifts, paid for a couple of plane trips to California, orchestrated their meetings and often spent weekends with her in his Adams Morgan apartment. The details contradict the account provided by Condit's aides and attorneys, who say there was nothing beyond friendship.
Mike Lynch, Condit's chief of staff in Modesto, declined to comment on Zamsky's account. He referred calls to Marina Ein, a public relations specialist hired Thursday by Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Condit. Ein also declined to comment on Zamsky's account, saying Condit's priority "is finding a young woman who seems to have vanished. The rest is sensationalism."
Zamsky's description of an affair, which has been provided to police and videotaped by investigators, raises the importance of Condit as a source of information on Levy. Police searching for a missing person generally focus on those who were closest to the individual, attempting to establish frame of mind, habits and behavior before the disappearance. In cases involving women who vanish, police pay particular attention to the person or people with whom they were last known to be having a sexual relationship.
In a 90-minute interview, Zamsky, 40, spoke of a secret relationship described to her by Levy. The picture painted by the aunt is of a woman who relished the attention of the older man, heeded his caution and treasured his gifts, which included a gold bracelet and Godiva chocolates. Levy hoped Condit would marry her and even envisioned a life with children, the aunt said.
The first mention of a romantic relationship took place at Thanksgiving, when Levy went to visit Zamsky in her home on Maryland's Eastern Shore. At the time, her niece emphasized the secretiveness of the affair and was reluctant to mention a name, said Zamsky, who is married to Levy's uncle.
"There was a look in her eyes. She was excited. She said he's here in Washington and he goes home occasionally. She said he's in government. She mentioned he had two kids," Zamsky said.
As they watched C-SPAN, Levy explained the dynamics of the House and Senate to her aunt and described her love interest as "looking a bit like Harrison Ford. She said he was lean, in good shape, worked out, very conscientious about his body for a 53-year-old."
"I asked, 'How do you get in touch with him if it's so secretive, this relationship?'" Zamsky recalled. "And she said, well -- and this is when she came and accidentally said his name to me. She would dial a number. It would play music, and she would leave a message. She said, 'I would also call the office, and they would answer, "Gary Condit."' And that's how his name came out."
"And she goes, 'Oops.' She says, 'You didn't hear that.' And I said, 'No,' and of course I did," Zamsky said. "I made real light of it. I kind of dummied up because I wanted her to feel comfortable."
Levy then confided that the relationship was already intimate. Zamsky said.
At that time, Zamsky said, Levy described how Condit instructed her to avoid hinting to anyone in his building that she was visiting him.
If she was in the elevator and someone pressed his floor, she was to press a different floor, Zamsky said. If someone asked if she were new in the building, she was told to say she was visiting a sick friend.
Zamsky said Levy told her that she and Condit spent a lot of time in the apartment; sometimes he would cook, sometimes they ordered in.
Secrecy always a priority
When they went out for dinner, Levy told her aunt, she would go downstairs first, hail a cab and then get inside. Condit, whose apartment faces the street, would then run down, wearing a baseball cap and jeans, and hop in. They would go to the suburbs, often for Thai food.
Zamsky said Levy told her she was free to date other men as well.
"She said, 'No.' She wanted this to be a monogamous relationship."
Condit would compliment Levy, Zamsky said, telling her, "It's nice to see someone who is willing to be flexible with my schedule and my lifestyle. I haven't had that in a relationship before."
In January, Zamsky said, she spoke to Levy by phone and her niece mentioned possibly moving in with Condit at some point. Zamsky thought that it might just be wishful thinking because he was still married.
But Levy told her that she thought it could work.
In early April, Levy went to Zamsky's home for Passover, where she was joined by her family, visiting from California. Zamsky said Levy told her the relationship was progressing -- she talked about carrying on a secretive affair for five years and then marrying Condit and having a baby.
During Levy's visits and in telephone calls, the aunt said, she heard that Condit had bought her plane tickets so she could return to California for school. On Valentine's Day, she received chocolates and a card. Once, Levy showed Zamsky a gold bracelet she said the congressman had given her on Valentine's Day or Christmas.
The relationship seemed to become more serious in April, Zamsky said. The night before Passover began, Levy and Zamsky went out for pizza and then ice cream.
"We bought Ben & Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough. We didn't buy the low fat. She said that's what they eat. She didn't use his name. She said her, 'Boyfriend, my guy.' Most of the time she referred to him as, 'My guy.'"
After Passover, Zamsky said, she did not talk to Levy for a couple of weeks. Then on April 29, the day before Levy was last seen, Levy left a message on Zamsky's voice mail. Zamsky would not hear from her niece again.
"Hi, Linda. This is Chandra. My internship is over," Levy said in the message. "I'm planning on packing my bags in the next week or 10 days. Heading home for a while. Don't know what I'm going to do this summer. And I really have some big news or something important to tell. Call me."
Zamsky said Thursday that she did not know what Levy was referring to but added that the 24-year-old did not seem upset.