WASHINGTON – Republican Mitt Romney denounced a Web site that was bitingly critical of GOP rival Fred Thompson's personal life and political career, calling it "juvenile and offensive."
"There's no place in politics for those kind of hijinks," the former Massachusetts governor told The Associated Press in a telephone interview as he campaigned in Midland, Texas.
Now off-line, PhoneyFred.org was the creation of Wesley Donehue, a business associate of Romney's top political operative in early voting South Carolina, Warren Tompkins. Romney's campaign insists that neither Romney nor Tompkins knew about the site or approved of its creation.
Said Romney: "The Web site is obviously juvenile and offensive. It was not done by anyone employed by my campaign, and Mr. Tompkins indicates it was not done by his firm, that the person who put it up was acting on his own. I've said I do not want to have that person in any way associated with my campaign."
Tompkins, for his part, has said: "The bottom line is I didn't know anything about the site." On Wednesday, he added that Donehue has been "severely admonished, but not fired. He's on a very short leash."
The 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. And, it asked, "Once a Pro-Choice Skirt Chaser, Now Standard Bearer of the Religious Right?"
Romney aides say they traced the site to Donehue after media inquires about it. Thompson's campaign has called the explanation a "half-baked, cover-up attempt."
The Web site for a Tompkins venture, TTS Political Strategies, said Donehue "runs the daily operations of the firm." TTS is affiliated with On the Mark direct mail, which records show Romney's campaign paid $145,00 during the first half of 2007. The TTS site had links for Under the Power Lines, Tompkins' political consulting firm.
Tompkins has been paid $12,000 monthly to guide Romney's South Carolina effort.