Republican Tom Foley conceded Tuesday he has no idea what evidence, if any, supports his suspicion that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy accepted money as a candidate from the man he later appointed commissioner of environmental protection, Daniel C. Esty.

“It’s possible it’s not true,” Foley said. “I believe it’s true.”

Foley, who says he was surprised and stung by the near-universal editorial criticism over his unsupported assertions that Malloy appointed Esty to return a financial favor, said he was playing by the same rules as reporters: He has two “reliable sources.”

But Foley acknowledged in an interview with The Mirror that he never asked the basic question that reporters demand of sources, especially those alleging knowledge of secret, corrupt dealings: How do they know what they claim?

“How do I know this to be true?” Foley asked, repeating a question posed during a telephone interview. After a long silence, he replied, “I didn’t ask for hard evidence. But these are people who I trust.”

But how were his sources in a position to know about a secret financial arrangement that they say existed between Malloy and Esty?

“One was in the media,” Foley said.

And how did the media person know that Esty paid Malloy while Malloy was a candidate?

“I assume, like you, people are fishing around, looking at reports, talking to people,” Foley said. “There is buzz.”

Then why hasn’t the media outlet that employs his source reported the story? Does that mean the evidence did not meet the journalistic standards by which Foley wants to be judged?

Foley paused.

“I don’t mean, necessarily, a reporter,” he said of his media source.

Foley, who was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2010, first accused Malloy of unspecified ethical lapses a week ago as he announced the creation of an exploratory committee for governor.

In an interview aired Sunday on WFSB’s “Face the State,” Foley made several claims, the most explosive being that he believes that Esty employed Malloy through a consulting arrangement.

Esty, a Yale professor who also had an environmental consulting business before joining state government, categorically denied paying Malloy, employing Malloy or arranging for him to be paid by anyone else.

Foley’s performance was widely panned by editorial pages, columnists and one of the state’s most prominent critics of Malloy: former Gov. John G. Rowland, a conservative talk show host.

“I’m really surprised and kind of disappointed the media is saying a standard that is acceptable to them is not acceptable to a private citizen,” Foley said.

Foley said if two sources are good enough for journalists, then why not him?

“What’s the difference?” he asked.

Foley said he will press the ethics issue, even if it is unwise political strategy. Earlier Tuesday, Foley challenged Malloy to release his tax returns and prove the sources of his income:

“If the governor wants to settle the Esty issue quickly, all he has to do is release his tax returns from 2006 through 2010 and identify the sources of his income in those years. I call on Governor Malloy to do this.”

The source of Malloy’s income for 2010, when he was running for governor, is public record.

After taking office in 2011, Malloy was required by state ethics laws to file a financial disclosure statement showing the source of any income greater than $1,000 in the previous calendar year. His disclosure identified one source: Class Green Capital, which hired him as a senior director in late 2009 after his final term as mayor of Stamford ended.

One of Class Green Capital’s officers is Andrew Shapiro, who served on the advisory board of an environmental center that Esty ran at Yale.

“I played no role in Malloy getting hired by Class Green,” Esty said. “I didn’t know of the existence of the company at the time Malloy was hired.”

Foley said Class Green is not the vehicle through which he suspects Esty paid Malloy.

“That’s not the Esty thing,” he said of Class Green.

Foley said he did not doubt the qualifications of Esty, a former EPA official and well-received author of books on energy and environmental policy, to be commissioner of the agency that was expanded into the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

He also acknowledged that Esty took a significant pay cut to join the Malloy administration.

Still, Foley said, he still believes that Esty’s appointment was tainted.

“If it is true he was providing some kind of support to the governor during or prior to his campaign, then his appointment as a commissioner of DEP would appear to be a payback and improper,” Foley said. “The ethical standard for a governor should be not even allowing the appearance of a conflict.”

Trading a job for a thing of value would be corrupt, though he saw no problem in an elected official rewarding campaign donors with an appointment, he said.

Foley, a businessman with no diplomatic experience, was appointed by President George W. Bush to an administrative post in post-invasion Iraq and then ambassador to Ireland after serving as a major fundraiser for Bush’s presidential campaign.

“It’s not illegal to round up contributions for somebody’s campaign and then to be appointed to an office,” Foley said.

There is a long tradition of presidents naming their friends as ambassadors rather than career foreign service officers who might not be supportive, Foley said.

“That kind of political reward doesn’t erode public confidence,” Foley said. “It erodes public confidence when it appears the state’s business was directed toward friends of a politician.”

Malloy’s Statement of Financial Interests for calendar year 2010

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Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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