Friday, November 03, 2006

Can Republicans keep taking hits like this? Yet another scandal

From AOL News:Haggard, who as president of the National Association of Evangelicals wielded influence on Capitol Hill and condemned both gay marriage and homosexuality, resigned on Thursday after a Denver man named Mike Jones claimed that he had many drug-fueled trysts with Haggard.

On Friday, Haggard said he that received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel, and that he bought meth for himself from the man.

But Haggard said he never had sex with Jones. And as for the drugs, "I was tempted, but I never used it," the 50-year-old Haggard told reporters from his vehicle while leaving his home with his wife and three of his five children.

Jones, 49, denied selling meth to Haggard. "Never," he told MSNBC. Haggard "met someone else that I had hooked him up with to buy it."

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Jones also scoffed at the idea that a hotel would have sent Haggard to him.

"No concierge in Denver would have referred me," he said. He said he had advertised himself as an escort only in gay publications or on gay Web sites.

Jones did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Friday.

In addition to resigning his post at the NAE, which claims 30 million members, Haggard stepped aside as leader of his 14,000-member New Life Church pending a church investigation. In a TV interview earlier this week, he said: "Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife, I'm faithful to my wife."

The NAE's executive committee issued a statement Friday praising Haggard's service but saying "it is especially serious when a pastor and prominent Christian leader deliberately violates God's standards of conduct."

The statement did not mention the allegations against Haggard but noted he had admitted to "some indiscretions."

"Due to the seriousness of Rev. Haggard's misconduct while in the leadership roles he held, we anticipate that an extended period of recovery will be appropriate," the statement said.

In Denver, where Jones said his encounters with Haggard took place, police said in a statement they were "watching this situation unfold and plan on reaching out to the involved parties for information on crimes that may have been committed."

The statement did not say whether an active investigation was under way, and police spokeswoman Virginia Quinones did not immediately return a call.

District attorney's spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said a public admission isn't enough by itself to bring a case, but "if we can prove criminal conduct, we will" file charges.

Jones claims Haggard paid him for sex nearly every month for three years until August. He said Haggard identified himself as "Art." Jones said that he learned who Haggard really was when he saw the evangelical leader on television.

Jones said he went public with the allegations because Haggard has supported a measure on Tuesday's ballot that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. Jones said he was also angry that Haggard in public condemned gay sex.

Haggard, who had been president since 2003 of the NAE, has participated in conservative Christian leaders' conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied members of Congress last year on U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said Friday Haggard had visited the White House once or twice and had participated in some of the conference calls, but he did not have exact numbers.

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He declined to comment further, calling the matter a personal issue for Haggard. Fratto said he did not believe the allegations would discourage conservative Christians from voting Tuesday.

Corwin Smidt, a political scientist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and director of the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics there, said Haggard's role with the association gave him some political clout, but the group's focus is more on religion than political activism.

"It isn't necessarily that all evangelicals are paying close attention to what he's saying and doing, but he is an important leader," Smidt said.

James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, an influential conservative Christian ministry based in Colorado Springs, said he was "heartsick" over the allegations. He described Haggard as his close friend and colleague.

Aaron Stern, another pastor at New Life, told AP Television News on Friday that Haggard is a man of integrity and that church members don't know which of the allegations to believe.

Stern said has been telling church members seeking his advice that "People fail us. ... People do things we don't expect them to do, but in the midst of all of that our god is faithful, our god is strong."

Jones took a polygraph test Friday, and his answers to questions about whether he had sexual contact with Haggard "indicated deception," said John Kresnick, who administered the test.

Jones told reporters afterward he was disappointed by the results. "I am confused why I failed that, other than the fact that I'm totally exhausted," he said.

Kresnick, who said he administered the test for free at the request of KHOW radio in Denver, said exhaustion could have been a factor in the results.

"There's a possibility that his being mentally and physically exhausted could have caused him some problems," he said. Kresnick, who said he had 25 years' experience as a polygraph tester.

James Earle of Colorado Springs, a retired FBI polygraph tester, questioned whether fatigue could affect Jones' results.

"I don't think that just lack of sleep would cause a person to go truthful or deceptive, one way or the other," he said. Earle said he could not comment on the specifics of Jones' test without seeing the questions and the test charts.

Associated Press Writers Robert Weller

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