WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's former New Hampshire staffers issued a statement on Monday that accused her top campaign aides of being "rude, unprofessional, dishonest and at times cruel."

In the wake of last week's news that the New Hampshire staff had quit en masse, former New Hampshire campaign manager Jeff Chidester confirmed in an e-mail to the Star Tribune on Monday that the statement was sent on behalf of five staffers, including himself and several field directors. The statement notes that the staffers harbored no ill will toward Bachmann, but said she was "sequestered behind a wall of pretense, guarded by political operatives consumed by their own egos."

Monday's statement capped what has become a multi-day distraction for the Bachmann campaign, which is struggling to break its downward spiral and regain some momentum in Iowa.

Bachmann's national campaign on Monday said the statement should be ignored because it was issued by someone never formally employed by the campaign, Karen Testerman, who ran for governor in New Hampshire last year.

"The unauthorized news release was sent by a person who doesn't even work for the campaign and has never had authority to speak on behalf of the campaign," Bachmann campaign manager Keith Nahigian said in a statement. "We are not responding to comments made by a person who was not even a staff member in New Hampshire. Our focus is on Iowa."

Testerman said she was asked by the national campaign as recently as last Thursday to get ready to file papers with the secretary of state for Bachmann to appear on the New Hampshire ballot. Chidester confirmed that Testerman had been asked to file the papers.

Testerman also said she served as an unpaid adviser to the campaign and sent the statement on behalf of the five who resigned. She said she was on the campaign when Bachmann visited New Hampshire earlier this month and according to news reports held a fundraising house party for Bachmann in May. "I was the one that the campaign was calling on Friday to find out what was going on and where everybody was," she said.

Bachmann's campaign did not comment beyond its statement.

GOP New Hampshire strategist Michael Dennehy said the controversy will add to questions about the durability of Bachmann's campaign. "This is adding to the lingering nature of the story, and it's not helpful all around for the Bachmann campaign," he said.

The staffers said in the statement they were treated as "second-class citizens" by the Bachmann campaign and "constantly left out of the loop."

The resignations have been a point of contention from the moment they were announced. Bachmann's campaign manager claimed on Friday that the staff had not, in fact, resigned. By Sunday, Bachmann said in an interview with Fox News that "we are replacing the staff we had in New Hampshire.

Chidester told the Union Leader on Friday that he actually had quit a week earlier.

The staffers' statement also noted that they were hired as paid staff but were asked to temporarily go off the payroll for a month in mid-September. Bachmann's campaign spent $6 million last quarter but took in only $4.1 million.

Jeremy Herb • 202-408-2723