CONCORD, N.H. New Hampshire's attorney general said Thursday she doesn't expect to identify before next week's primary those responsible for a series of anti-Mormon phone calls that targeted presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his faith while praising John McCain
Attorney General Kelly Ayotte issued a brief report just five days before New Hampshire voters go to the polls. In it, she pointed to two firms: Western Wats, based in Orem, that made the calls; and Moore-Information Inc., of Portland, Ore., that hired Western Wats.
She said her office determined that while Western Wats conducted the poll, Moore-Information "was involved in developing the content of the transcript for the poll and set the dates for the poll to be conducted in New Hampshire."
A spokesman for Western Wats told the Deseret Morning News the company did, indeed, make the calls but denied that the firm engaged in push polling.
"We don't do push polling," said company spokesman Jeffrey Welch. "We never have and we never will."
Welch said the calls were conducted as a survey. He also said the company cooperated with the New Hampshire investigators, handing over a copy of the survey, along with other related materials.
Western Wats officials also told investigators who had hired the firm to make the calls, he said. The investigation, he said, "did not give us cause for concern," he said.
Ayotte said she can't yet point to who hired Moore-Information, a key question in determining who is behind the calls, their intention and their legality.
New Hampshire executed out-of-state subpoenas for Moore-Information to produce documents by Saturday explaining its role and who hired it as a middle man. The Attorney General's Office asked for a speedy hearing on the subpoenas so primary voters could determine who was responsible for the calls.
But an Oregon court scheduled a hearing for Jan. 16 a week after the primary after Moore-Information disputed the subpoena and objected to the deadline.
The news comes as a blow to Mitt Romney trying to become the country's first Mormon president. His faith has been an issue in his presidential bid, especially with conservative evangelicals who are central to his strategy to cast himself as the candidate for the GOP's family values voters.
New Hampshire law requires that all political advertising, including phone calls, identify the candidate being supported. No candidate was identified in the 20-minute calls.
The message-test poll was critical of Romney, his faith and the Vietnam War-era military deferments he received while serving as a missionary in France. The callers also made statements strongly supporting fellow Republican John McCain an attempt to make it appear the Arizona senator was behind the calls.
McCain's campaign immediately called on the attorney general to investigate and decried the effort to besmirch him. Aides suggested the calls were designed to embarrass the Arizona senator.
Among the questions was whether a resident knew that Romney's five sons did not serve in the military, that his faith did not accept blacks as bishops into the 1970s and that Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is superior to the Bible.
Romney's campaign vigorously denied it was involved, saying the calls were reprehensible.
Romney supporters also suggested the calls came from McCain or Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor's consultant, the Tarrance Group, has used Western Wats in past campaigns.
The Giuliani campaign has paid the firm more than $400,000, according to federal campaign reports. Western Wats also worked for Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996. Employees said they used such calls to describe rival Steve Forbes as pro-abortion rights.Western Wats said it was not conducting the calls on behalf of Giuliani or anyone affiliated with his campaign.
Contributing: Catherine Smith, Deseret Morning News