DETROIT — Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick bristled in the witness chair last year when asked whether he had an affair with a top aide. No, the mayor confidently told jurors, the two were never romantically involved.
But a trove of 14,000 text messages that emerged this week tell a different story: The mayor and his chief of staff carried on a flirty, sometimes sexually explicit dialogue about where to meet and how to conceal their numerous trysts.
Now the mayor's indiscretion has landed him in a Clinton-style scandal that could cost him his job and his law license and even bring perjury charges.
"I think the mayor needs to take responsibility for the situation," City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel said Thursday. In politics, she said, "you operate in a fishbowl."
The Detroit Free Press did not explain exactly how it obtained the messages, which were sent or received in 2002-03 from Chief of Staff Christine Beatty's city-issued pager. The newspaper said it cross-referenced the messages with the mayor's private calendar and credit card records to verify events in some of the notes.
The mayor's denial came last summer during testimony in a lawsuit filed by two police officers who alleged they were fired for investigating claims from two former bodyguards that the mayor used his security unit to cover up extramarital affairs.
Mike Stefani, a lawyer for the officers, asked Beatty if she and Kilpatrick were "either romantically or intimately involved" during the period covered by the case.
"No," she replied, rolling her eyes.
While still on the witness stand, the mayor later went on the offensive about the allegations, defending his reputation and that of Beatty.
"I think it was pretty demoralizing to her _ you have to know her _ but it's demoralizing to me as well," he testified. "My mother is a congresswoman. There have always been strong women around me. My aunt is a state legislator. I think it's absurd to assert that every woman that works with a man is a whore."
Late Wednesday, Kilpatrick issued a statement about the messages that was more subdued.
"These five- and six-year-old text messages reflect a very difficult period in my personal life," he said. "It is profoundly embarrassing to have these extremely private messages now displayed in such a public manner."
On Thursday, mayoral spokesman James Canning said in a statement that Kilpatrick and his family were returning from Florida on Thursday evening "and plan to continue their private time for the next several days."
Last summer's lawsuit ended with the jury awarding $6.5 million to the two officers. The mayor seemed flabbergasted at the verdict and denied the allegations against him.
"I'm absolutely blown away at this decision. I know Detroiters are, too," he said at the time.
The text messages published by the Free Press revealed a romantic discourse that at times became sexually explicit.
"I'm madly in love with you," Kilpatrick wrote on Oct. 3, 2002.
"I hope you feel that way for a long time," Beatty replied. "In case you haven't noticed, I am madly in love with you, too!"
On Oct. 16, 2002, Kilpatrick wrote Beatty: "I've been dreaming all day about having you all to myself for 3 days. Relaxing, laughing, talking, sleeping and making love."
Kilpatrick is married with three children. Beatty was married at the time and has two children.
The two, both 37, have been friends since they attended the same Detroit high school. Kilpatrick also appointed Beatty as his chief of staff when he became state House minority leader in 1999. She was his campaign manager during his campaigns for state House and the mayor's office.
The content of the text messages "astounded" Judge Michael Callahan, who presided over the lawsuit. He said the messages would have been admitted into evidence, if they had been presented during the trial.
"I've done other whistle-blower cases, but I don't think I've ever had a trial as tense as the one involving the mayor and the city," he said.
Callahan said it would be up to local prosecutors to decide whether to seek perjury charges against the mayor. The county prosecutor's office declined to comment on Thursday, but scheduled a news conference for Friday morning.
A conviction of lying under oath is punishable by up to 15 years' imprisonment.
The Associated Press left messages seeking comment from Detroit lawyer Sam McCargo, who represented Kilpatrick in the trial.
Perjury cases are fairly simple to prove, according to Texas lawyer and former U.S. prosecutor Matthew Orwig.
"The matter here would just be the reliability of the text messages as evidence, proof of who wrote them and proof of making a false statement," Orwig said.
Kilpatrick, who was just 31 when first elected, has tried to reshape his image into that of a mature leader overseeing one of the nation's largest cities. He even shed a trademark diamond stud earring.
The mayor has received much of the credit for Detroit's surge in downtown development. But he had to fight for re-election in 2005 after his campaign was dogged by questions about his spending, including the use of city credit cards for expensive out-of-town travel and the lease of a luxury sport utility vehicle for his family.
The disclosures about his personal life could give pause to anyone considering investing in the city.
"Investors want to feel a sense of security about the future," said Mackinac Center economist Michael LaFaive. "For companies on the margins, do they decide in favor of Detroit or against it? This news throws a new and complex set of variables into the equation."