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Condit speaks out in lengthy interviews

WASHINGTON -- Reclusive former Rep. Gary Condit has broken his long silence, telling a Sacramento-based lobbyist and author he is content with his life.

In multiple interviews that spanned more than seven hours, Condit spoke bluntly about his political rise and fall and his subsequent efforts to reinvent himself as a business investor. The businesses haven't always prospered, and his political reputation is irredeemable, but the 59-year-old Condit was described as "absolutely candid" and forthright.

"This is not a guy that lives with regret," said writer Terence McHale on Friday about the former Democratic representative from Ceres. "He has a remarkable capacity for moving on."

A 1974 Modesto High School graduate, McHale works as a lobbyist with the prominent Sacramento lobbying firm Aaron Read & Associates. As a side venture, the company began publishing a magazine called California Conversations in 2005. The magazine has a circulation of about 3,000 as well as a Web site, and its features typically included extended interview transcripts.

The Condit story and interview stretch over about a dozen pages, in the next California Conversations issue, which is due to appear in about two weeks.

During the interviews, McHale said, Condit voiced "some disappointment" in the decision by former aide Dennis Cardoza to challenge him in the 2002 Democratic primary. Cardoza beat Condit and has held the House seat since. At the same time, Condit cast himself as fully understanding how the hardball political game is played.

"He did not seem angry," McHale said. "In fact, it was just the opposite."

In 2001, any interview with Condit would have been pure journalistic gold. While its value has dropped since, Condit's story is still one a lot of people apparently want to hear.

The longtime valley politician, first elected to the House in 1989, was caught in a media feeding frenzy after the disappearance of former Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy.

Levy was last seen in April 2001. Her skeletal remains were found in Washington's Rock Creek Park in May 2002. Police declared her death a homicide but have never solved the crime or identified a suspect.

Condit eventually told investigators in the summer of 2001 that he had been having an affair with Levy, according to police leaks and undisputed news accounts. He steadfastly stiff-armed reporters, though, until his then-attorney, Abbe Lowell, negotiated a prime-time television interview with ABC's Connie Chung in August 2001.

Interview didn't go well

With an estimated 24 million people watching, Condit's palpably uncomfortable and much-criticized performance with Chung further undermined his Capitol Hill standing. He could not resurrect himself with subsequent interviews on CNN's cozier "Larry King Live" show.

After leaving Congress in January 2003, Condit and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Arizona. Carolyn Condit also participated in an interview with McHale, lasting about an hour. Until now, about their only public appearances have been through filing various defamation lawsuits. One, targeting author Dominick Dunne, remains outstanding.

The Condit family started running two Baskin-Robbins ice cream stores in the Phoenix area, but have since been sued by the company over alleged management failures. A one-day civil trial concluded in October but a ruling has not been issued.

McHale first interviewed Condit late last year at an Embassy Suites hotel in Denver, near where Condit's daughter, Cadee, runs a business. McHale said he landed the interview -- the kind sometimes called a "get" in the journalism business -- by working through former Assemblyman Rusty Areias. McHale once worked for Areias, who was a close friend of Condit from their joint service in Sacramento.

"He made it very clear that he wasn't looking for redemption," McHale said.

On the Net: www.californiaconversations.com.

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