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Blogger dangles more details, published 05/25/10

COLUMBIA -- Nikki Haley said she's done talking about allegations that she had an adulterous sexual relationship.

But the political blogger making the claims isn't.

Will Folks said Tuesday he was in contact with Haley's gubernatorial campaign for two weeks about how to handle any fallout over his claim that he had an "inappropriate sexual relationship" with the married mother of two.

"My advice was that she and her husband sit down on a sofa together and talk about it the way (President Bill) Clinton did," Folks told The Post and Courier.

Haley, a state representative from Lexington leading in the GOP race, has vehemently denied Folks' allegations, and he has yet to provide any proof that he is telling the truth.

Folks told The Associated Press that the relationship happened in 2007, while he was working for Haley, writing speeches and news releases. Campaign disclosure records show that Haley paid Folks' company about $5,000 for consulting work in 2007 and 2008.

He wouldn't say if he had intercourse with her, but on Tuesday he characterized their interaction as "inappropriate sexual contact," and said that it happened more than once and it ended by mutual decision.

Folks told the newspaper he has evidence to support his claims, including text messages. He has been making the allegations on his blog, FITSNews.com.

The Post and Courier has asked for Haley's campaign and state-funded e-mails and phone records under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. The newspaper has not received a response on the request.

Charles Reid, the House clerk, said in an e-mail late Tuesday that state law exempts legislators' correspondence -- including e-mails -- from public disclosure. Reid said, however, that his office handles each request on a case-by-case basis.

But even if the request is granted and e-mails between Folks and Haley exist, they may not be available for public release because the state Legislature's e-mail system automatically deletes messages that are more than 180 days old. Folks claimed his relationship with Haley took place about three years ago.

The question of public disclosure could end up in Haley's court. She has made transparency in government a hallmark of her campaign.

Haley's campaign manager, Tim Pearson, said in an e-mail that Haley has addressed the allegations forthrightly. Pearson did not respond to specific questions that the newspaper asked by e-mail and in phone messages.

"For the past year now, South Carolinians have been subjected to much more frenzied media sensationalism than they ever wanted; Nikki is determined not to contribute to that," Pearson said in the e-mail.

"As she has repeatedly said, this amounts to nothing more than a distraction from the things that are most important to the people of our state. She is very thankful for the incredible support she has received this week from all across South Carolina, and will continue to keep her focus on the issues that truly matter."

On Monday, Haley launched an aggressive counterattack to Folks' claims, but by Tuesday Haley's camp was mostly quiet. She didn't attend Tuesday's House session.

She said in a statement Monday that Folks' claim of an "inappropriate physical relationship" is "categorically and totally false" and that she has been "100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage."

Folks, meanwhile, said Haley has not demanded that he remove his blog post, publish a retraction or sought a court injunction, citing that as proof that he is telling the truth.

"What does that tell you? I don't know," Folks said.

Folks said state lawmakers and other sources indicate that U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett's campaign forced FITSNews to reveal the relationship.

Luke Byars, campaign manager for Barrett for Governor, said Tuesday that Folks' claims are untrue that the Barrett campaign created the pressure that caused Folks to feel "compelled" to discuss an inappropriate relationship with Haley.

"This is patently false and absolutely untrue," Byars said.

Folks said he has records to back up everything he said, including texts between himself and Pearson, one of Haley's chief campaign workers, discussing how to handle the campaign's response. Haley didn't listen to Pearson's advice, Folks said.

"I got made out to be a villain, and that's unfortunate," he said, adding that he's accustomed to being a villain, but for a cause.

"Does it hurt to be called a liar? Sure. I was floored by the full-frontal attack against me," he said about Haley's reaction Monday.

He said he was not paid to publish the claims, nor does he have a financial stake in the governor's race.

FITSNews is a controversial blog that declares itself to be "Unfair. Imbalanced." Folks' credibility has taken a hit, and he fired back by saying that there has never been a successful libel suit filed against the blog.

"If anybody is going to be doing the suing, it's going to be me." Folks said.

There is a libel case pending against FITSNews in district court in Charleston, he said.

According to court documents in the civil case, Folks is one of seven defendants accused of publishing or addressing stories about allegations made during a heated 2008 state Senate campaign.

A judge has suggested that the suit be dropped without prejudice.

Meanwhile, at a news conference to receive an endorsement Tuesday from six former Charleston County Republican Party chairmen, S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster said he did not believe rumors about his fellow GOP gubernatorial candidate.

"I think it's a sorry commentary on politics in America," McMaster said. "I feel for the Haley family, that we have no reason to believe any of those things."

Paul Bowers and Schuyler Kropf contributed to this report.