Congressman 'had affair' with cleric's daughter

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The Independent US

The mystery of the missing Washington intern took on further shades of the Clinton-Lewinsky saga when a Pentecostal minister claimed Congressman Gary Condit had enjoyed an affair with his 18-year-old daughter and urged her to hush it up.

Otis Thomas has told FBI investigators that Mr Condit, now 53, had an affair with his daughter Jennifer seven years ago. He decided to speak out when he learned that Mr Condit and the missing intern, Chandra Levy, had discussed the congressman's previous relationship just weeks before she disappeared. Mr Thomas worked as a gardener for the parents of Ms Levy, who vanished 10 weeks ago.

"Mrs Levy asked me if I knew Gary Condit and asked me what I thought about him," Mr Thomas told The Washington Post. "She said she was asking about him because her daughter was friends with him in Washington."

This latest salacious twist has moved a puzzling tale into the area previously occupied by the Clinton saga. Details of the California congressman's apparent penchant for women other than his wife have engrossed Washington – even if the developments are little help in the search for the missing 24-year-old.

The Post reported that Mr Thomas spoke with Mrs Levy last April, apparently as he tended her roses. He revealed that his daughter had an affair with the congressman seven years ago but that he had advised his daughter to break it off. "I told Mrs Levy that with my daughter it ended badly, that I thought her daughter should end the relationship with him right away."

The newspaper also reported that Mrs Levy spoke with her daughter about Mr Condit's relationship with Mr Thomas's daughter, but was told the congressman had "explained it all" to her.

Mr Thomas's daughter declined to comment about her relationship with Mr Condit. A note left pinned to the door of her Californian home yesterday said she had never known Mr Condit.

Amid all of the focus on the congressman's now very public private life, police are continuing their investigation into the disappearance of Ms Levy. They were last night due to start a search with sniffer dogs of abandoned buildings close to apartments used by both her and Mr Condit.

Police have already searched the congressman's apartment in Washington. It was reported yesterday that forensic teams found very little of interest during their four-hour search. Experts took a sample from one drop of blood in plain sight in the bathroom and from tiny specks detected with ultra-violet equipment in the living room. Abe Lowell, Mr Condit's lawyer, allegedly refused to let police take away an item of clothing that bore a red stain. A black hair was also found. One source said the apartment was extremely tidy. The source said: "It has been cleaned all over and was pretty neat."

Meanwhile, Anne Marie Smith, the airline hostess who claims she also had an affair with Mr Condit, has spoken to the US Attorney's office. It emerged yesterday that she was questioned by officials for seven hours on Wednesday, and detailed her allegation that Mr Condit tried to make her sign an affidavit saying the pair of them had never had an affair. She spoke with officials again yesterday.

Perhaps inevitably – even in a city as outwardly prurient but equally hypocritical as Washington – Mr Condit has become the central feature of the hunt for the missing intern. Police stress he is not a suspect, but there is a growing belief that he has not told the full truth about his relationship with Ms Levy. His lawyers are negotiating with police over the possibility of him taking a lie detector test. He has also offered to give a DNA sample.

Ms Levy, who had spent nine months in Washington in a temporary job with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, was last seen on April 30 when she handed in her membership at a local gym. The following day her parents received an e-mail saying she intended to return to California within days.

Mr Condit initially described Ms Levy as being a "good friend". During his third interview with police he admitted he was having an affair with her, a confession he was forced into after Ms Levy's aunt, Linda Zamsky, revealed details of the couple's affair.

* Senior White House staff were evacuated from the northern end of the West Wing yesterday after a suspicious car parked in the driveway attracted the attention of bomb-sniffing dogs. President George W. Bush remained in the building's southern side, meeting aides and lunching with Dick Cheney, the Vice President.