NEW YORK — Gary Hart, his presidential campaign rocked by a report that he spent part of the weekend with a Miami woman, said today he was wrong to behave in a way that could be "misconstrued to be improper" but "I absolutely did not" do anything immoral.
"Did I make a mistake by putting myself in circumstances that could be misconstrued? Of course I did. That goes without saying," Hart said in his first public appearance since the story in Sunday's Miami Herald. "Did I do anything immoral? I absolutely did not."
Hart, speaking to the American Newspaper Publishers Assn., denounced the story today as "misleading and false" and said it presented "inaccurate conclusions" based on "spotty surveillance."
He said it had "hurt my family and other innocent people and reflected badly on my character."
'Marriage Is Stronger'
Hart acknowledged he and his wife have had some difficulties, but he said, "For 28 years I have been married to my wife, Lee . . . and today our marriage is stronger."
"I don't intend to give up" on the campaign, Hart said. "The cause is more important than the candidate."
The Herald reported that Hart and Donna Rice spent Friday night and most of Saturday together at his Washington town house while his wife was in Denver. The newspaper, which had assigned reporters to stake out Hart's home following an anonymous tip, later conceded that between midnight and 5 a.m. not all doors to the building were watched.
"I suspect that few of you here would want to put up with that kind of experience, regardless of the prize," Hart said in a long-scheduled appearance at the publishers' luncheon.
He said the Herald reporters "refused to interview the very people who could have given them the facts" before printing the story, and added, "I hope you'll ask yourselves some searching questions about what is right and what is truthful."
He then went on to discuss, as planned, the economic themes of his campaign.
Lee Hart canceled plans to meet her husband in New York today because of a sinus infection, Dawn Alexander, deputy press secretary for Hart's campaign, said in Denver. Alexander said there was no truth to headlines about a possible Hart divorce.
The 50-year-old former Colorado senator, whose campaign has been dogged by rumors of womanizing, on Saturday told the Herald that Rice, 29, was a "friend of a friend." He denied she spent the night.
'All Very Innocent'
Rice, speaking publicly for the first time about her weekend visit to Hart's home, said Monday that it was "all very innocent."
"I don't know if he was attracted to me, but there was nothing between us," said Rice, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of South Carolina, now an actress who also works as a pharmaceutical sales representative. "I'm more attracted to younger men."
She offered a public apology to Lee Hart "for any problem this has caused her and her family. I'm also sorry for any problems this may have caused my own family, too."
Rice said she met Hart in Aspen, Colo., at a New Year's Eve party at the home of Don Henley, a former drummer for the rock group the Eagles. She said she and a friend, Lynn Armandt, met Hart again in March at a party on a charter boat sailing near Miami.
Rice said Hart called two days later and asked her to join him and an adviser, William Broadhurst, for a day on a charter boat--named "Monkey Business." "I invited my girlfriend (Armandt) and we set out and ended up on Bimini," she said.
She said the four stayed overnight, and the men slept on a separate boat from the women. The only others on the outing were five crew members.