Tim Pawlenty defended potential GOP presidential primary opponent Sarah Palin over her PAC's 2010 use of gun-sight images to mark target districts, but he also distanced himself from them.
"There's no indication at present that those cross hairs, Fox News, any particular commentator or show or set of remarks or person was a motivating factor in his thoughts," Pawlenty told the New York Times, referring to the suspect in the shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Jared Loughner.
But Pawlenty went a step further:
"It's not a device I would have chosen to do. Everybody's got their own style or different approaches. But I don't want to have anyone infer that there's evidence in this case that it caused or was a contributing factor. We don't know that."
Asked whether he would have created a similar map, the former governor of Minnesota and author of the autobiography "Courage to Stand" was unequivocal: "I wouldn't have done it," he said.
After Saturday's shooting in Tucson, Ariz., the Twittersphere seized on the gun-sight imagery employed by SarahPAC. The sights, plotted on a map of the United States, singled out pro-health-reform lawmakers from districts that went for John McCain and Palin in the 2008 presidential contest -- Giffords among them. Now that Palin has been thrust into the dialogue surrounding this tragedy, her handling of the dispute will probably be pivotal in shaping her national profile ahead of 2012.
Pawlenty has stuck up for Palin other times.
Just this morning, he went on ABC's "Good Morning America" to promote his new book, "Courage to Stand" and had this to say about his potential rival:
"Sarah Palin has become a force of nature in the Republican Party. She inspires people in the conservative cause. She exudes enthusiasm, and that energy is the fuel of grass-roots politics. We need that kind of energy and fuel from people all over this country if we want a shot at setting America back on course."
You can watch the complete Times interview with Pawlenty below: