Chandra Levy’s mother has not yet read the new book that former Congressman Gary Condit helped write, breaking his 15 years of silence after the young woman from Modesto was murdered in Washington, D.C.
But Susan Levy knows enough about “Actual Malice” to have problems with it, as well as with Condit’s appearance Thursday on TV’s “Dr. Phil.”
“I think he was promoting his book,” Levy said. “It’s about his ego, his own gratification, to get out of the hole he put himself into.”
That hole – drilled by nationwide speculation over whether the then-53-year-old married congressman was having an affair with the 24-year-old Bureau of Prisons intern, or had anything to do with her 2001 disappearance – buried Condit’s political career.
Years later, blame landed on Ingmar Guandique, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, but his conviction recently was overturned.
“Actual Malice” written by Breton Peace with Condit’s cooperation, presents the former lawmaker’s side of the story. He is certain Guandique is guilty, but spends most of the book blaming bumbling investigators, a media frenzy and the Levys for his stunning fall from grace.
What issues does Susan Levy have with Condit’s long-awaited coming out?
First, that the book was dedicated to Chandra, along with another woman who had worked on Capitol Hill, whose murder likewise was never solved.
“He has lined himself up as being understanding and empathetic. So it’s not a real problem, but it’s weird,” Levy said Friday in Modesto.
Second, Condit’s choice of author to work with. Peace is the son of Steve Peace, Condit’s former cohort in the “Gang of Five” California assemblymen, Democrats who dared to stand apart from powerful then-Speaker Willie Brown.
Third, Dr. Phil’s acknowledgment – at the tail end of Thursday’s show – that “Actual Malice” is published by a company owned by Jay McGraw. Dr. Phil didn’t say it, but that’s his son.
“I was shocked. There’s something not kosher about all of this,” Levy said. Said Bob Levy, Susan’s husband and Chandra’s father: “That’s his business. Controversy.”
Fourth, that she was invited to join Condit on the TV show, but nothing was said about it launching Condit’s book. “All they told me was, ‘Would you consider being on the show?’ I’m glad I decided not to,” she said.
Fifth, that Condit tried to explain away his gift of jewelry to Chandra as something he did for any visitor from his home district to Washington, D.C. Condit said he kept trinkets around for such purposes, but Levy isn’t buying it. “You don’t give out pretty gold bracelets to just any constituent. That just does not match,” she said.
Sixth, that “Actual Malice” plays games with the reader, suggesting various infidelities while never confirming them. Condit told Dr. Phil he was not romantically involved with Chandra Levy, while Peace admitted that readers should conclude that they had slept together; later in the episode, Condit refused to say whether the affair happened.
“I don’t think he was very clear about the real relationship that went on with my daughter,” Levy said.
Before her death, in a conversation about dating, Chandra said, “How did you know?” when her mother asked about a relationship with Condit, Susan Levy said; that account also appears in “Actual Malice,” followed by a scene with Condit smoking a cigar and telling a friend that Levy was “making stuff up.”
Seventh, the book says that not long after Chandra vanished, Susan Levy told Condit she was sure her daughter was having an affair with one of three California congressmen, none of them Condit.
“No!” Levy said Friday. “Those words, I never said. The man believes his own lies.”
Levy said she was happy that Condit identified Chandra – not Condit – as the victim in this sad story, on “Dr. Phil.”
But at the end of the show, when asked what message he might share with the Levys, Condit said they should know that he fully cooperated with authorities.
In Condit’s mind, Levy said, “It’s all about Gary.”
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390