WASHINGTON — Troubles mounted Friday for Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., after new reports that he may have tried to impede the Chandra Levy investigation, and a congressional colleague filed a formal ethics complaint.
Authorities are investigating whether Condit attempted to obstruct justice by dumping a watch box into a trash bin in nearby northern Virginia just hours before police searched his Washington condominium last week.
The box was traced to another woman who had given Condit a watch as a gift, according to CNN and Fox News. Police were alerted when someone recognized Condit from the intense media coverage.
"It's something we would logically be concerned about," said Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "In any investigation being conducted, if there's an allegation a person is trying to get rid of evidence that's something we want to pursue. There may be an innocent explanation, but sometimes there's not."
Federal officials already are looking into whether Condit tried to obstruct justice when his attorney asked a flight attendant who claims to have had an affair with Condit to sign an affidavit saying the two never had a relationship.
Police say Condit has admitted to having a sexual relationship with Levy, 24, who was last seen April 30 after finishing a federal internship. Authorities have questioned Condit and searched his apartment in connection with the disappearance, though they continue to say he is not a suspect.
Obstruction of justice is one of the centerpieces of the ethics complaint by Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., who was the first member of Congress to call for Condit's resignation Barr had requested on July 13 that the ethics committee begin an inquiry into Condit's behavior.
On Thursday, the committee's chairman and top Democrat wrote to Barr saying his request was not a formal complaint and that it was too soon to begin an inquiry. Committee rules do not allow an inquiry to begin while law enforcement officials are still investigating a case.
On Friday, Barr said he was "disappointed" by the letter. He sent a detailed, seven-page complaint requests the House ethics committee sanction Condit, for allegedly violating federal law by obstructing the Levy investigation, failing to cooperate fully with police early on and "for improper conduct that brings discredit to the United States House of Representatives."
Meanwhile, CNN reported that a Modesto minister had chanced his story about Condit having had an affair with his then 18-year-old daughter.
Law enforcement sources told the network that the Rev. Otis Thomas, a Pentecostal minister, now says he was lying when he told the FBI about the affair. On July 12, the day after the report, a note signed by his daughter was taped to the Thomas's front door denying any affair.
Police on Friday continued to search a large Washington park for any clues to Levy's disappearance. They released a full list of 30 Internet sites she visited the morning of May 1, including one for people interesting in visiting France, www.gofrance.about.com.