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No one is above the law

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WASHINGTON — I went to Barnes & Noble one Saturday a couple of months ago and asked the young guy behind the counter to help me find a book. "I can't remember the title," I told him. "But it's a collection of true stories in which love affairs end with a horrible crime."

He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Mmmm," he said, "having a bad weekend, are we?" I blushed, thinking how it must have sounded. But I was curious why "Empty Promises," by the crime writer Ann Rule, had been on The New York Times best-seller list for nine weeks.

Rule, a former Seattle police officer and FBI consultant, often writes about lovely young women who vanish, including the case of Anne Marie Fahey, the secretary of Gov. Tom Carper of Delaware, who disappeared in June 1996. Wilmington was rocked when a wealthy and prominent attorney and friend of the governor was arrested for shooting Fahey when she attempted to break off an affair with him. The married lawyer got his brothers to help him dump the body in the Atlantic Ocean and when police found blood traces in his house, he claimed that a distraught Anne Marie had killed herself there. He got the death sentence.

I called Rule to see what she thought about the police-story obsessing Washington. She said that even if Gary Condit is not culpable, his relationship with the missing Chandra Levy is integral to figuring out the case, and press interest cannot be dismissed as tawdry or prurient.

"I think this is a very romantic girl, a Monica, an Anne Marie Fahey, one of many unnamed young women who move in the circle of powerful men and don't see how expendable they are," said Rule.

Condit's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, who was the House Democratic counsel who stuck up for Bill Clinton during the impeachment inquiry, is trying to play the Clinton card. He's railing at the press for salaciously invading Condit's privacy. It won't work.

This is a classic story about whether a powerful man can put himself above the law and about the unappetizing inequity of relationships in Washington between older married officials and young, needy women.

Last Friday night, Condit finally admitted the affair to police, after nine weeks, three police interviews and an intense PR campaign by the Levy family to flush him out, including a Washington Post interview with Chandra's aunt giving vivid, sad details of the secret liaison, including the aunt's suggestion that she try to please her lover by arranging his shirts by color and creating a cactus terrarium.

The D.C. police chief, Charles Ramsey, called a news conference Tuesday afternoon to say that police were accepting Condit's offer, "so generously made," to allow them to search his apartment. So generously made?

Ramsey indicated that they had tried to get a warrant earlier and failed. But they should have tried harder to search the apartment of the man in D.C. who was closest to Chandra, especially since he was clearly being less than truthful and helpful.

A Condit ally told Newsweek's Michael Isikoff that the congressman had resisted all pleas from political advisers to acknowledge the affair sooner because he believed he should be protected by his "zone of privacy." Given the last few years in Washington, any politician who wants a zone of privacy shouldn't lie publicly.

New York Times News Service