The Washington Post reports (CLICK HERE) that some members of the South Carolina campaign team of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have been linked to a website sliming former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.
The site, PhoneyFred.org, was taken down ever since the Post began asking questions about it.
The Post reported that the site "painted an unflattering picture of Thompson, dubbing the former TV star and senator 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...Before it vanished, the front page of the Web site featured a picture of Thompson depicted in a frilly outfit more befitting a Gilbert and Sullivan production than a presidential candidate. Under the heading 'Playboy Fred,' the site asked the provocative question: 'Once a Pro-Choice Skirt Chaser, Now Standard Bearer of the Religious Right?'"
The site had links, the Post discovered, to the website of the political consulting firm of J. Warren Tompkins, Romney's top Palmetto State consultant.
Tompkins, you may recall, helped then-Gov. George W. Bush defeat Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in South Carolina's 2000 primary amidst allegations of all sorts of ugly smear tactics (LINK) as well as Bush's questionable military absentee ballot monitoring program (LINK). Back in February 2000, one of Bush's key South Carolina advisers told TIME, "We play it different down here. We're not dainty, if you get my drift. We're used to playin' rough."
Todd Harris, who worked for McCain back in South Carolina seven years ago and is now communications director for Thompson, called the anti-Thompson website "smut" and "high-tech gutter politics" and called for Romney to fire Tompkins if he had anything to do with the site.
Asked for a response to this recent brouhaha, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden emailed me that "the site has no direct affiliation to our campaign, and we had no knowledge of its development."
Madden said PhoneyFred.org "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."
After the Romney campaign found out about this, Madden says, "We informed this party that as a result of that server use, we were receiving inquires about the site from reporters" and "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. 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."
Did Tompkins or any of Romney's South Carolina team know about PhoneyFred.org or have anything to do with it?
Madden said "No. Mr. Tompkins and other SC staff also informed us they had no knowledge of the development or the hosting of the site."
Today Harris told me, “It is not appropriate on a day like September 11th to engage in politics. We will have plenty to say on this subject tomorrow.”
UPDATE: It turns out the man behind the anti-Fred Thompson website is Wesley Donehue who directly works for Mitt Romney's senior South Carolina consultant J . Warren Tompkins and another Romney consultant Terry Sullivan.
Donehue, as "the first associate consultant and vice president of TTS" -- Tompkins Thompson Sullivan -- "runs the daily operations of the firm. Despite being only 27 years old, he is one of the most experienced operatives in the state." (LINK).
And yet the Romney campaign insists Donehue has nothing to do with their campaign and Tompkins knew nothing about the anti-Thompson website.
Also interesting is the fact that Tompkins's regular business website is all of a sudden "under construction," though you can see glimpses of a cached version HERE.
UPDATE 3:26 pm EST -- Thompson campaign communications director Todd Harris has opted to issue a rather scathing statement about this incident, referring to "an increasingly desperate Mitt Romney" a "half-baked cover-up attempt by the Romney campaign (that) does not even pass the laugh test" and asserting that the "episode only serves to prove what many voters are already figuring out: Mitt Romney will do anything, say anything, smear any opponent and flip flop on any position in order to win."
The Thompson campaign is five days old. The Gloves are off.