One woman, Chandra Levy, 24, has been missing for two months. Something very bad has happened to her. The other, Anne Marie Smith, 39, is anything but missing for anyone who watches TV news. Something ugly happened to her.
His name is U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, 53, D-Ceres. As a member of Congress, Condit is an ace. He knows how to represent his farm-filled district. He's a savvy moderate with a pleasant bipartisan streak.
As a man, he is proving to be a cad.
Smith's roommate sold to a tabloid information about a reputed affair between Smith, a flight attendant, and Condit. Prior to publication, the Star sent a letter to Condit's office asking for his comment. Chief of Staff Michael Lynch forwarded the letter to Condit's San Francisco law firm, Cotchett, Pitre & Simon. According to a statement released by the firm, "We located the flight attendant" -- she doesn't even rate being called "that woman, Miss Smith" -- "and called her for any information she had on the report."
Then, the statement continued, Smith contacted her attorney Jim Robinson -- he gets a name -- who asked the Condit lawyers to send him a draft of a "statement" Smith could release in response to the Star. The so-called "statement," denying an affair which she contends was real, included the words, "I declare under penalty of perjury ..."
Robinson, however, told The Washington Post the Condit legal team suggested the affidavit.
I don't want to overdo the comparisons with Bill Clinton, because the fate of Chandra Levy makes this a matter of life and death.
Still, this is also a political story, and it speaks to a harshening of American culture. Since when do Americans find it acceptable for their leaders to ask women to sign affidavits stipulating that they had no relationship? The answer: When the truth no longer mattered, and politics became the art of getting away with it.
If he had an affair, I'd rather Condit act like a man and fess up. In America, a man is free to have an affair, but there is no right to not getting caught.
Of course, it's possible Smith and Condit didn't have an affair. Just because he is acting guilty, hiding behind written statements, only speaking through his lawyers and congressional office, hey, that doesn't mean that he has something to hide.
But if they were lovers, this affidavit is an outrage. If Condit was involved in efforts to get Smith to sign an untrue statement, he may have broken the law. If his attorneys and tax-funded staff acted independently of Condit, they employed the sort of ruthless intimidation that feminists used to denounce, before they got blase about "just lying about sex."
"How do you ask someone in good faith to ask someone to sign an affidavit without finding out if it's true?" raged crime novel author and former prosecutor Robert K. Tanenbaum. Condit aide Lynch would not answer questions about the affidavit; he would only refer to the lawyer's statement.
Then, late yesterday, (yet another) Condit attorney, Abbe Lowell, released a statement that noted that Condit will "resist efforts by the media to dissect and mischaracterize his and his family's private lives."
It's amazing how facile power dons switch from big guy to little boy. One day they're wowing star-struck skirts because their tax-funded jobs make them hot shots. The next day they're hiding behind staffers and lawyers who invoke the big guy's "private" life, and get all teary-eyed about the sanctity of his family.