- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

DENVER — A leading evangelical yesterday denied having sex with a male prostitute but acknowledged buying drugs and receiving a massage from him.

The Rev. Ted Haggard, who stepped down Thursday as head of the National Association of Evangelicals and as senior pastor of his church pending an investigation, told a cluster of reporters from his car that he bought methamphetamine from prostitute Mike Jones, but later threw it away.

“I was tempted. I bought it, but I never used it,” said Mr. Haggard, who gave the impromptu interview as he left his Colorado Springs home with his wife, Gayle, and three of his five children.

As his wife watched him silently from the passenger seat, he said he was referred to Mr. Jones for a massage by a Denver hotel.

Mr. Haggard’s version of events received an unexpected boost from Mr. Jones yesterday morning after he failed a polygraph test conducted on the air from the KHOW-AM studio in Denver.

The polygraph’s administrator, John Kresnick, said the results “indicated deceptions,” but acknowledged that the outcome could have been skewed because Mr. Jones said he was operating on little sleep and a migraine headache.

The scandal erupted Thursday when Mr. Jones told Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV and KHOW talk-show host Peter Boyles that he had a three-year affair with Mr. Haggard, widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading evangelical ministers.

Colorado conservatives immediately cried politics, criticizing the accusations as a thinly veiled “November surprise” designed to cut into support for Amendment 43, the traditional-marriage measure on Tuesday’s ballot.

“Ted Haggard is a friend of mine, and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday’s election,” said James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family.

Mr. Jones said he decided to go public after learning the man he knew as “Art” was, in fact, Mr. Haggard, and that he was a key proponent of Amendment 43.

Mr. Jones, who said he advertised himself as a male escort on the Internet, also discovered that his client opposed Referendum I, a first-of-its-kind ballot measure that would sanction same-sex partnerships.

“It made me angry that here’s someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes for gay sex,” Mr. Jones said in the radio interview.

A Public Opinion Strategies poll released Thursday showed Amendment 43 leading with 53 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. Meanwhile, Referendum I had lost support and was trailing with 47 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed, according to the Rocky Mountain News, which commissioned the survey.

But Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said Mr. Jones might have inadvertently damaged his cause. Backers of Referendum I have tried to keep the campaign’s focus on human rights, he said, while Mr. Jones’ accusations raise the specter of seamy hotel-room trysts.

“His goal was to affect the outcome of these ballot measures, but I think it’s going to have the opposite effect,” Mr. Ciruli said. Homosexual rights advocates “have done everything possible to keep the gay lifestyle out of it, and instead on the front page you have a male prostitute, secrecy, sex and drugs, and these were the exact topics proponents of domestic partnerships were trying to avoid.”

As evidence of the affair, Mr. Jones produced voice-mail messages purportedly from Mr. Haggard. A voice-recognition specialist hired by KUSA-TV said Mr. Haggard’s voice and that of the man leaving the message were “probably” the same person.

“Hi Mike, this is Art, I am here in Denver and sorry that I missed you. But as I said, if you want to go ahead and get the stuff, then that would be great. And I’ll get it sometime next week or the week after or whenever,” said one message released by KUSA-TV.

Mr. Haggard yesterday acknowledged calling Mr. Jones. “I did call him. I called him to buy some meth, but I threw it away,” he said. “I did not ever use it with him.”

Mr. Haggard, 50, said he voluntarily suspended himself as senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the 14,000-member megachurch he founded out of his basement in 1985.

Mr. Haggard, who had been president since 2003 of the NAE, has participated in conservative Christian leaders’ conference calls with White House staffers.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said yesterday that Mr. Haggard had visited the White House once or twice and participated in some of the conference calls.

“This is a personal issue for someone. It’s something that Reverend Haggard needs to deal with, with his family and his church,” Mr. Fratto said.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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