Gov. Charlie Crist stunned many by saying he did not know President Barack Obama was in Jacksonville recently to visit with U.S. troops. But if the claim didn't strain credulity enough, newly obtained e-mails show Crist's aides in Washington and Tallahassee were notified of the trip.
A detailed itinerary and invitation was provided by the White House on Oct. 23, three days before the visit, and Crist's executive assistant wrote back the same day saying, "Unfortunately, the governor will be unable to attend."
In ordinary times, Crist's claim may have drawn puzzled looks for a day or two. Obama's visit was widely previewed in the news and the governor is a regular reader.
But the Republican Crist is running for the Senate and has drawn intense scrutiny for attempts to distance himself from Obama.
The two appeared on stage together in Fort Myers in February to celebrate the federal stimulus package — an appearance that has become a liability for Crist as he faces primary challenger Marco Rubio.
Crist now says he did not endorse the stimulus bill, even as he said it helped bail out the state budget. PolitiFact.com, the fact-checking Web site of the St. Petersburg Times, rated his claim "Pants on Fire."
By the time Obama returned for his second presidential visit to Florida last month, Crist was fully feeling the heat. His poll numbers had dropped as Rubio's had climbed.
When reporters in Tallahassee asked Crist if he knew the commander in chief was in Jacksonville, he replied: "First I've known of that."
E-mails obtained by the St. Petersburg Times this week through a public records request cast doubt on that claim. The messages prove Crist's office was aware of the visit, and it seems unlikely his aide would have dismissed Crist going to Jacksonville without checking with Crist.
Crist's office declined to comment further Tuesday.
"Gov. Crist has a serious credibility problem," said Alex Burgos, a spokesman for the Rubio campaign. "His stimulus denial and his claim he wasn't aware of the president's visit to Florida is all part of a pattern that speaks to someone who Floridians increasingly can't trust."
The Democratic candidate in the race also faulted Crist. "Governor Crist or someone very close to him chose to make a political calculation with his schedule over the patriotic duty of paying tribute to our Armed Forces in Jacksonville with the Commander in Chief," said Abe Dyk, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.
Alex Leary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.