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November 4, 2006 - Los Angeles Times (CA)

Pastor [Haggard] Admits Mistakes, Denies Gay Sex, Drug Use

Top Evangelical Leader Says He Knew Escort But Their Association Was Not Intimate

By Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. - One of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders admitted Friday that he visited a gay prostitute for a massage and bought methamphetamine for his personal use -- though he said he threw the drugs away without using them.

The Rev. Ted Haggard denied the allegation that the two men met for sex as often as every month for the past three years. But he did say he went to the man's apartment for a massage and later called him to buy meth.

"I never kept (the meth) very long," Haggard told a TV reporter who questioned him as he was leaving his home in Colorado Springs, a short drive from his 14,000-member mega church. "I was tempted. I bought it. But I never used it."

The man Haggard met in Denver, Mike Jones, has advertised as an escort in gay magazines. His Web site promises massages "with the pleasure of the man in mind." Haggard said he was referred to Jones for a massage by a Denver hotel.

"No concierge in Denver would have referred me," Jones told MSNBC on Friday.

Jones said he decided to come forward because he thought Haggard's public stand against same-sex marriage was hypocritical. The pastor has spoken out in favor of a measure to ban same-sex marriage that appears on Tuesday's ballot in Colorado.

Jones failed portions of a lie-detector test arranged by a Denver radio station Friday morning. The test showed deception specifically in the questions about his alleged sexual trysts with Haggard.

Nevertheless, a panel of pastors from outside New Life Church is looking into the accusations. So are Denver police investigators.

A Popular Leader

The National Association of Evangelicals, which has 30 million members, accepted Haggard's resignation as president Friday, with an acknowledgment that he had committed serious misconduct and needed "moral healing."

Friday night, hundreds of cars packed the New Life Church parking lot. A man bundled up against the cold held a sign that read: "God still loves you, Pastor Ted, and so do I."

In the three years Haggard, 50, has led the evangelical association, he has significantly raised its political profile. Though he doesn't campaign for specific candidates, he has said he votes a "straight ticket" -- and has left no doubt that the ticket is Republican.

Asked Friday whether Haggard had participated in the administration's weekly call with evangelicals, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "He had been on a couple of calls, but was not a weekly participant in those calls. I believe he's been to the White House one or two times."

Damaging To GOP Hopes?

The Haggard scandal saddened many evangelicals and left them wondering how their movement can reclaim its voice in politics, and whether any disillusionment will affect Tuesday's midterm election.

Conservative evangelicals are a key part of the Republican base, and even before Haggard's misconduct hit the headlines, political analysts suggested many might be inclined to stay away from the polls.

The Haggard scandal "adds one more challenge for the Republicans," said Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster based in Denver.

Even a mild depression in voter turnout in Colorado could affect two critical House races. Both the fifth and fourth congressional districts are heavily Republican, and polls show the GOP candidate in both districts is ahead.

But the races are close enough that Vice President Dick Cheney came to Colorado Springs on Friday to campaign for Republican Doug Lamborn -- and President Bush is scheduled to be in Greeley, Colo., Saturday to rally support for Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.

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