Almost from the start, the now 11-week-old saga of the missing intern and the congressman from California has caused fits for Gary A. Condit's fellow lawmakers. This week, what already was a difficult situation became more awkward after Condit's apparent admission--during a third interview with police--of a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy.
For many elected officials, some of whom had been assured privately by the Ceres Democrat that no affair had occurred, the revelation was troubling. It didn't help that it came on the heels of allegations by another woman that Condit had asked her to lie about their alleged affair. Washington, after all, is a place where a sex scandal is survivable but cover-ups can be career suicide.
And so the isolation of Gary Condit seems to have begun.
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) on Friday called for a House ethics committee investigation into Condit's conduct, citing "mounting, and already substantial, evidence that [Condit] has obstructed a law enforcement investigation and otherwise engaged in behavior in violation of the rules of the House."
Barr, who has a long track record of criticizing Democrats for personal behavior, also has called for Condit's resignation. So far, he is the the only member of Congress to do so. But Barr, whose critics like to point out he has been thrice-married, may just be saying out loud what many on the Hill have been thinking.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) previously had little to say about Condit's involvement in the case and earlier this week said it was "not appropriate for other people to tell colleagues what to do." But she issued a statement Thursday implying he had done too little to help so far--perhaps for his own political protection.
"Congressman Condit must put aside any considerations for himself and tell all he knows about this case to law enforcement authorities without further delay," she said. "He needs to be truthful and forthcoming with the authorities to help them find Chandra."
Earlier in the week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed her disappointment that Condit had ignored advice she offered several weeks ago that he make a full public accounting of his relationship with Levy.
Other party officials have kept to a standard line. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said again in a radio interview Friday that the focus should be on finding Levy. All indications, he said, are that Condit has cooperated with authorities.
Many on the Hill have taken a wait-and-see approach to the scandal--out of wariness about the tabloid-like coverage and also because of the continuing mystery about Levy's whereabouts.
"This is not your run-of-the-mill Washington sex scandal," said one Democratic leadership aide. "A life hangs in the balance. So I think most people believe political considerations should wait until she is found."
Pamela Barr, executive director of the California Democratic congressional delegation, said that, despite intense media scrutiny, which includes camera crews and reporters chasing him through the halls of the Capitol, Condit has continued to do his job and stay in touch with fellow lawmakers about legislation and policy.
"I was on the floor with him during [Thursday's] vote on the campaign finance reform rule and every single person who came up to him was a well-wisher," she said. "Many of them empathized with him about the media frenzy."
A month ago, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) told The Hill, a daily paper focused on Congress, that "nobody who knows Gary has lost any faith in him."
On Friday, his office declined to comment on Condit.
"He hasn't said anything since that interview," said Rohrabacher's spokesman, Ricardo Bernal, "and he's not planning on commenting on Mr. Condit."