Thompson campaign loses aide

ST. PAUL, Minn. Republican Fred Thompson sidestepped questions Monday about the departure of yet another high-level aide to his presidential campaign-in-waiting.

Linda Rozett, a longtime U.S. Chamber of Commerce official, is gone from the former Tennessee senator's committee to "test the waters" of a presidential bid after spending the last several weeks as communications director.

"I don't know what the story is," said Thompson, who was asked about the departure while campaigning at the Minnesota state fair. "I don't know what to say about it except that she's a wonderful lady."

Rozett's departure was disclosed in an e-mail to staffers from campaign manager Bill Lacy. "I will have to make a lot of tough decisions to make our venture successful and this was one of them," Lacy wrote. "Linda is a talented, professional and gracious lady who will be missed. But in the limited amount of time we have I feel it critical to have a communications point person with significant campaign experience."

The all-but-declared candidate collected about $1.5 million less than the $5 million backers had hoped to bring in during June, his first fund-raising month.

In July, Thompson sidelined his campaign-manager-in-waiting, Tom Collamore, and watched a few other aides follow him out the door amid consternation inside the operation about the active role of Thompson's wife, Jeri.

On Monday, Thompson posed for pictures, spoke briefly with reporters and sampled the food at the Minnesota state fair.

Questioned about the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, Thompson said the attorney general's enemies were piling on and he didn't think Gonzales did anything wrong. But Thompson said Gonzales didn't handle the situation very well.

"It was mishandled," Thompson said. "He doesn't have a monopoly on that in Washington."

Thompson smiled broadly when he was introduced as an "all-but-declared GOP presidential candidate" while interviewed live at the WCCO-AM radio booth by Eleanor Mondale, daughter of former vice president Walter Mondale.

"I think it's pretty clear the direction I'm headed in," said Thompson, who plans to announce his official candidacy next month.

He was capping his visit to Minnesota with a $1,000-per person fundraiser.