In book he helped write, Condit says he did not woo – or kill – Chandra Levy

Gary Condit’s name is as big as author Breton Peace’s on the cover of “Actual Malice.”
Gary Condit’s name is as big as author Breton Peace’s on the cover of “Actual Malice.”

Those faithful to the memory of Condit Country glory days of the 1980s and ’90s, when Gary Condit seemed to enjoy rock-star status around Modesto before his stunning fall from grace, will find much to embrace in “Actual Malice,” an edgy new book written with the former congressman’s help.

The more skeptical, however – whether people believe he was having an affair with former federal intern Chandra Levy, or actually had something to do with her 2002 disappearance – won’t find much in the book supporting those suspicions. It’s based entirely on Condit’s version of reality, painstakingly pieced together by the child of a longtime ally with access to thousands of records kept by Condit and his family.

Condit will talk about “Actual Malice,” whose cover gives him credit in the same type-size as author Breton Peace, in a Dr. Phil episode scheduled to air Thursday on Sacramento CBS affiliate KOVR (Ch. 13) at 2 p.m. The book had not arrived at Modesto’s Barnes and Noble as of Tuesday, but can be ordered online or purchased for e-reading.

The book’s theme: he didn’t do it – the affair or murder – and there are reasons why people don’t believe him. The same independent streak that built the formidable Condit political machine, from his Gang of Five days in the California Assembly to his Blue Dog Democrats in Washington, D.C. – led to his demise in the court of public opinion, the book suggests.

You’ve got to get ready for work?” (Chandra) said, and stepped closer to (Condit).I do.Right now?Dayton’s on his way.OK. I gotta run too…

“Actual Malice” excerpt

He didn’t always play by conventional rules in politics. That made him attractive to Republicans as well as Democrats, the book says, but the same stubbornness came into play when Condit refused to cooperate with a ravenous press, from The Modesto Bee in his home base to The Washington Post.

When news crews focused on salacious rumors of Condit’s affairs with Levy and several other women, the book says, some trusted advisers urged him to give reporters something – maybe a confession about infidelity, or an apology. He refused because he had done nothing wrong, the book says.

When he finally caved in and granted an interview to TV’s Connie Chung, most viewers found him evasive. “Within days,” the book says, “some of his closest friends had forcefully and publicly abandoned him.”

The “Actual Malice” title refers to a legal standard in libel cases; to successfully sue, Condit would have to prove that a news agency was not just careless in reports but employed actual malice.

This book is not a mystery, but Peace plays games with Condit’s “playboy” image, flitting between stories suggesting indiscretions with various attractive women without confirming what actually happened. One scene contains lurid sex-chat language and points to Condit without naming him, but the reader finds out several chapters later that a staff member in his office was the guilty one.

Detective Wyatt then asked his first and only question. “Did you have sex with her?If you can tell me the relevancy of that question I will answer it,” Gary responded.Wyatt sunk back.

“Actual Malice” excerpt

Some readers may be offended at a scene suggesting that Levy came on to Condit in his Washington apartment. He shut it down, the book says.

Others will either fondly recall their favorite statesman, or roll their eyes at his portrayal as a savvy, f-bomb-dropping chick magnet with a “sinewy body” who buddies up with the likes of Willie Brown, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. An ally described him as “a bit of a roughneck with an itch of bohemian he had to scratch from time to time.”

“Actual Malice” may reserve its harshest indictment for the media, but Condit heaps plenty of blame as well on the Levy family and bumbling Washington police, and the book contains much information on Ingmar Guandique, who served several years in prison for the murder before prosecutors recently reversed course and dropped their case against him.

The last line of Peace’s preface is telling for the book’s condemnation of “a broken system of justice in which so many with power are bent by ambition, indifferent to truth, incompetent, or all three.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390