Two of Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's top aides have quit his campaign, signaling that the once high-flying antigay contender is in trouble.
Campaign manager Barry Bennett and communications director Doug Watts resigned today, NBC News reports, with Bennett citing tensions with controversial Carson adviser and business manager Armstrong Williams.
Williams created problems that were "undercutting any good news we had," Bennett told NBC. Another source, unidentified, told the network Williams has been an "ongoing problem since day one."
They did not say if any of the problems related to past sexual harassment allegations involving Williams. Earlier this month, just before the Republican debate in Las Vegas, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt took out a full-page ad in a Vegas paper offering up to $1 million for "confirmable information" that would prove conservative commentator Williams "initiated unwanted sexual advances toward other men."
Williams was the target of a 1997 lawsuit claiming he sexually harassed a male producer who worked with him on a radio program and as his personal trainer. Williams, who has said he is heterosexual, denied the accusations and settled the lawsuit out of court years ago.
Today Williams told NBC he had nothing to do with the personnel changes and bore no rancor toward Bennett and Watts, who he believes resented his close relationship with Carson. "It's easy to blame," he said. "I have nothing but praise for these guys. I knew they had issues with me, we worked around them -- it's like a family." Williams added, "I'm not a part of the official campaign and I never will be."
But Bennett told The Hill today, "I called Ben this morning ... and explained to him the root of the problem is that you told me Armstrong is not involved in the campaign but he clearly is. My frustration level is boiling over, so I told him I think it's best that I leave."
Bennett also objected to interviews Carson gave last week saying he was considering major changes in his campaign, although the candidate then expressed "100 percent confidence" in his staff. "The entire team was left wondering if they had a job," Bennett told The Hill. "It made for a great Christmas."
After the departure of Bennett and Watts, he issued a statement saying retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bob Dees, who has been a foreign policy adviser to Carson, will become campaign chairman, and senior strategist Ed Brookover will take the job of campaign manager.