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Of the dozen or so sources that Hutchins recalls talking to, he says that not all of them had heard a confession directly from Folks that he had a physical relationship with Haley. Wesley Donehue, communications and political director for the S.C. Senate Republican Caucus and the marketing and technology director for the SCGOP, says he also heard Folks' accusation firsthand. At the time, Donehue says he believed Folks, but now he does not.
When Hutchins was asked if he had spoken with sources who had reportedly heard from Haley herself about an alleged affair with Folks, Hutchins says, "I really can't get into that too much." He adds that he had received enough information to believe that she had told people.
One such person that Hutchins confronted was B.J. Boling. A Gresham Barrett staffer at the time, Boling declined to talk. Barrett lost to Haley in the 2010 gubernatorial runoff.
On May 13, after talking to a dozen sources and having numerous conversations, Hutchins felt that the time had arrived to speak to Folks directly. "We had a pretty long conversation. He didn't admit to it. He didn't deny it," Hutchins says. "I told him in that conversation I was probably going to write a story about it."
After speaking with Folks, Hutchins then attempted to speak with Haley directly. He left a voicemail on Haley's phone on May 14. The call was returned, but not by the candidate. According to Hutchins, it was her campaign manager, Tim Pearson.
Pearson had exchanged several texts with Folks on May 13 and 14 about the forthcoming Free Times article. The men also discussed how to address the allegation if it went public. Folks published the texts on FITSNews on May 26. According to one such text message to Folks, Pearson wrote, "I think we both deny it. I think an affadavit [sic] is something we can beat down. Legally and politically."
A minute later he added, "I'm telling you man, we keep this under wraps and nh [Nikki Haley] is going to win."
Not once in the text messages does Pearson or Folks deny the rumor. The texts also paint a portrait of Folks as a man clearly worried that the charge will become public.
While Pearson was aware of the allegations on May 13, Hutchins claims that on May 14 Pearson acted as if he had never heard the rumor before. According to Hutchins, Pearson asked him why he had called Haley. Hutchins replied, "'Actually, I was going to ask her if she had an affair with Will Folks.'" Hutchins claims, "And he laughed. And he said that's ridiculous or something. And I said, I really don't think it is, and I talked to him about how I thought I had enough to go on. And he said, you're on some pretty shaky ground here. And I said, well, I don't think so."
According to Hutchins, Pearson told him that Haley would not comment on the allegation. "He acted like, oh, this is just coming out of [left] field — this is ridiculous, where is this coming from — but it's obvious that he had been waiting for a phone call," Hutchins says.
"Now, after reading the text messages between him and Will, it sounded like they were well aware of this and it's not like the first time that he heard it," he says.
Pearson has not spoken with the City Paper despite several requests for an interview.
While Hutchins doesn't believe that the impact of his story was weakened by Folks' initial report, the Free Times reporter thinks the story could have been stronger.
"It would have been nice to get a direct comment from [Haley] about it before Will had come out with his allegations or his confessions or whatever you want to call it," Hutchins says. "They did a very good job of handling her, and it's obvious now from the type of messages that they knew something was in the pipe and they were going to protect her as much as possible."
Looking back, he says he missed an opportunity to approach both Haley and her husband Michael at the Sarah Palin endorsement rally, which Hutchins attended. "It would have been nice if I had done that," Hutchins says, adding that a friend had called and invited him to go fishing around the time the endorsement was taking place and he took off before Palin finished. Besides, he says, he felt like he'd pretty much heard enough.
"I thought there would be other opportunities," Hutchins says.
The former staffer
There is one individual with ties to Haley that could possibly put an end to what has become yet another low point in Palmetto State politics: B.J. Boling.
According to the Free Times, a political insider made the claim that "former Haley staffer B.J. Boling told him Haley had confided in him about the affair around the time Boling was working on her House re-election campaign in 2008."
When confronted by the Free Times about this secondhand information, Boling said, "You know, it's not something I want to talk about."
While there is certainly reason to question secondhand information, especially information about a rumor that had been circulating the Statehouse for several years, Boling's alleged insider knowledge about the reported affair seemed to be treated as fact by at least a few parties. Text messages released on FITSNews between Folks and Wesley Donehue seem to indicate that they and others believed that Haley had confessed to Boling. Many of the sources we spoke to had heard the same story.
In one text Donehue says to Folks, "Now, I don't give a fuck of [sic] you believe me or not. Your [sic] the one who screwed her. You're the one who bragged about it. She's the one who told BJ. Yall [sic] point fingers at your own damn selves and leave me the fuck out of it."
Later on May 14, Donehue seemed to send a signal to Folks indicating that the affair claim could be squashed. "I'm going to try to kill it. You need to get BJ to back down. Nothing good will come of this getting out. I've already helped bust up one family. No need to take down another one."
In a recent conversation with the City Paper, Donehue says that while he once believed Folks' claim, he no longer believes the blogger had a physical relationship with Haley. As a member of the SCGOP team, Donehue is actively involved in getting Haley elected.
Boling has failed to return numerous phone calls and e-mails from the City Paper.