Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd yesterday suggested the government may have leaked news of his drunken visit to a New York strip club while on an official trip to the UN in 2003.
The Labor Party leader has admitted to visiting Scores, a Manhattan "gentlemen's club," during a boozy night out on a taxpayer-funded trip while serving as shadow foreign minister.
Rudd, a conservative Christian who says he is not normally a big drinker, said he did not have a "completely clear recollection" of whether there were semi-naked women in the club or what they were doing.
But he suggested officials in the ruling conservative coalition may have been the source of the report that triggered his admission, pointing the finger at Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
"It's a question you should put to Mr Downer and his staff," Rudd said when asked if he thought there had been a smear campaign against him.
A Downer spokesman declined to respond to the allegation.
Rudd said he went to the club with the editor of the New York Post, Col Allan, and Warren Snowdon, a Labor legislator from Australia's remote Northern Territory, after dinner with the two men.
"We can't actually recall anything that you wouldn't see in most pubs across Australia," Rudd said on Australian television.
"But that doesn't absolve me for going in that door in the first place," he said.
"That's where I made the error of judgement and it's something I shouldn't have done," he said.
A Labor Party ally of Rudd's, Queensland state Premier Peter Beattie, said the incident showed the politician had some "blood in his veins" and would probably win him votes.
"I think anybody who's had a few drinks and gone off to a club of some kind, provided they've behaved appropriately, my attitude is `big deal,'" Beattie said on ABC television.
The public, meanwhile, gave a mixed response. Comments posted on the Web site of major newspaper group News Ltd gave conflicting views.
"Good on ya, Kevin -- you have my vote for being human," one said.
But another poster said: "This man is supposedly trying to run this country. What type of example is he setting the children of Australia?"
Rudd has denied media reports quoting Australian diplomats that alleged "inappropriate behavior" at the club.
He also said he had informed his wife Therese at the time.
"I have never claimed to be perfect but I make no excuses," he said.
New York Post editor Allan confirmed that he had been to the club with Rudd and said the politician had behaved "like a perfect gentleman."
The lawmaker who accompanied them, Warren Snowdon, denied allegations that Rudd had touched a stripper or had been warned by management.
``We stayed for a reasonably short length of time. Nothing untoward happened and then we left,'' Snowdon said on ABC radio.
Senior government minister Peter Costello declined to comment on the reports.
Labor, which has lost the last four elections, has held a clear lead over the government in a series of opinion polls since Rudd was elected the party's leader last December.