A spokesman for Republican Mitt Romney said Tuesday that the presidential candidate did not approve the creation of a Web site severely critical of the personal and political life of his GOP rival, Fred Thompson.
The Web site, PhoneyFred.org, was created by Wesley Donehue, a business associate of Warren Tompkins, a South Carolina political operative on the Romney payroll and the candidate's top adviser in the early voting state.
The site was created without the knowledge of Tompkins or Romney, said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. After the campaign received media inquiries about it, Romney aides traced the site to Donehue and complained. It was taken offline on Monday.
"We made it clear that we did not approve of the site and asked for immediate action to make sure it was again in no way affiliated with the campaign," Madden said. "The person responsible is not an employee of ours, but we took immediate action to make sure it was clear the site was not affiliated with the campaign."
Tompkins told The Associated Press: "The bottom line is I didn't know anything about the site."
The Web site criticized Thompson's conservative credentials. It also labeled him Fancy Fred, Five O'Clock Fred, Flip-Flop Fred, McCain Fred, Moron Fred, Playboy Fred, Pro-Choice Fred, Son-of-a-Fred and Trial Lawyer Fred.
It asked, "Once a Pro-Choice Skirt Chaser, Now Standard Bearer of the Religious Right?"
A Thompson spokesman labeled the Romney camp explanation a "half-baked, cover-up attempt."
Spokesman Todd Harris also called for Romney to apologize and said he should "exercise some of his much-touted executive acumen, take control of his flailing campaign and immediately terminate anyone and everyone related to this outrage."
Romney has said he welcomes Thompson to the race for the GOP presidential nomination, which the former Tennessee senator and actor joined last week. However, Romney has also questioned Thompson's leadership experience, and aides to the former Massachusetts governor have highlighted the Tennessean's lobbying record and his support for campaign finance reform legislation, as well as suggestions he lacked legislative accomplishments.
The site made light of Thompson's acting career, saying of the "Law & Order" star: "You're probably in the same boat: You can't get the theme to 'Law & Order' out of your head, but can you name one thing that Fred did during his eight years in the United States Senate?"
It went on to note that Thompson once provided legal services to a family planning group, and also served as a lobbyist.
The Web site was hosted by a company called bluehost.com, based in Orem, Utah. It had links to Under the Power Lines, Tompkins' political consulting firm.
A Web site for another Tompkins venture, TTS Political Strategies, said Donehue "runs the daily operations of the firm." A TTS partner, Heath Thompson, is a media adviser to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another Fred Thompson rival, but Heath Thompson took a leave from TTS last year when he and Tompkins started working for different candidates.
Tompkins, a former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, is a veteran of Palmetto State politics. He served as President Bush's 2000 Southeast regional director at a time when Bush criticized then-rival Sen. John McCain and defeated him in the state's GOP primary.
Tompkins has been paid $12,000 monthly to guide Romney's effort in South Carolina.
"Once we received inquiries about the site, we discovered it was created by an individual who works at an Internet firm who parked the site temporarily on the company server space of a firm whose financial partner is a consultant to the campaign — Mr. Tompkins," said Madden, who later identified the individual as Donehue.