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Did former Huntsman staffer help leak his letters praising Obama, Clinton?

Published: Tuesday, April 19 2011 6:50 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — There's a new twist in the Washington guessing game about who leaked would-be White House contender Jon Huntsman Jr.'s letters praising President Barack Obama and the Clintons.

A Republican insider said Lisa Roskelley, the former Utah governor's spokeswoman while he was in office, was spotted at the state archives a few weeks ago going through Huntsman's personal, handwritten correspondence.

Roskelley, accompanied by an unidentified helper, was listed as the executive of R-PAC, the original political action committee established in Delaware to encourage Huntsman to run for president.

While her combing through Huntsman's records suggested to the insider as well as other political observers that his supporters were the source of the letters, Roskelley said she didn't leak them.

"Are you asking about the letters — of course you know I didn't leak them," Roskelley said in an email to the Deseret News. "You know me well enough to know I'm not going to engage in the wild-goose chase."

Roskelley did not deny doing the research at the archives, but called the story "ridiculous." Asked who should be contacted about her findings, she said, "There are plenty of people out there trying to discredit Jon Huntsman right now. I'm not one of them."

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said her activity suggests an effort to inoculate Huntsman against any potential political impact of the letters.

Written as Huntsman was stepping down as governor to become Obama's U.S. ambassador to China in August 2009, the letters first surfaced on The Daily Caller website Friday.

They've renewed questions about whether a Republican who worked for a Democratic administration should be seeking the GOP nomination — especially among supporters of other would-be candidates.

"If you were planning on running and worried what might come out, one way to deal with that is to get it out in public to begin with," Burbank said, noting it's "less embarrassing" at this point.

"He's not an official candidate yet. It will attract less attention," Burbank said. And if he does get in the race and his opponents refer to the letters? "He can say, 'Look, that's old news. That's already been talked about.'"

In his note to the president, Huntsman said he was leaving behind a state he and his wife, Mary Kaye, love and told Obama, "You are a remarkable leader — and it has been a great honor getting to know you."

Huntsman told former President Bill Clinton in a separate note that he has "enormous regard for your experience, sense of history and brilliant analysis of world events."

He also told Clinton that Obama's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "is well-read, hard working, personable and has even more charisma than her husband!"

Burbank said the letters aren't the kind of politically damaging information typically leaked. "This is pretty minor stuff," he said. "This seems fitting of what we expect ambassadors to do … get along with people and attend to the social niceties."

Try telling that to the Beltway bloggers who continue to speculate about the leak. Some have suggested it was the Obama reelection campaign. Others have said it could be Gov. Gary Herbert, a Mitt Romney backer.

"This office had nothing to do with the leaking of the letters," Herbert spokeswoman Ally Isom said. "Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are both personal friends of the governor. He has no interest is discrediting either one of them."

Isom said Herbert likely didn't know about the letters. "Drafting personal notes is a fairly routine exercise for a departing governor. I don't know that Gov. Herbert would have any knowledge of the notes Gov. Huntsman would have written. These were personal notes."

But, Isom noted, they are accessible to anyone through the state archives. She declined to speculate on Roskelley's search or Washington's fascination with the story.

The letters are part of the archives' extensive collection of Huntsman papers. Although the archives keep a list of people who access specific records, that information is not available.

"The list is deemed 'private,' as they do in libraries," said Vicki Schoenfeld, spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative Services.

Politico.com has done its own digging, noting the copies of the letters originally posted had holes punched in them and the archive copies don't.

After also being told the archives won't release the names of those who have reviewed the documents, Politico.com pointed out the "mystery" surrounding the letters has yet to be solved.

Email: lisa@desnews.com

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