December 7, 1995
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Welcome to you both. How serious is this for the Speaker, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think as a political matter, it's a good news/bad news situation. The good news for the Speaker is that five of the six allegations were dismissed or handled in a kind of wrist-slap fashion, no real sanction, and disposed as I think fundamentally trivial, small violations at most, certainly not enough that the Ethics Committee sought to do something. Remember the hullabaloo about Rupert Murdoch and the book contract nine months ago? Well, that was dismissed, deemed not to have been a real conflict of interest. The bad news is that a special counsel was appointed, and special counsels are unguided missiles. They're supposed--this one is supposed to have a limited mandate, but the truth is that depends upon the integrity and character of the special counsel because these things are your own personalized prosecutor. They're assigned to you, and you only, unlimited resources, and they can pretty much do what they want, particularly when one of the sides, the Democrats, is going to be urging, keep going, keep going, keep going. So I think that's the bad news.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think? How serious do you think it is?
ELIZABETH DREW: Well, I think Paul ought to cheer up in that case because actually as I understand the way a special counsel works in ethics inquiries, if he wants to broaden that rather narrow task he's been given, he has to go back to the committee to get its permission, and that's what happened in the case of Jim Wright. It was Gingrich, himself, brought a rather narrow charge, and they looked and looked, other things came up. I'm not saying other things will come up, but I can tell you the Democrats expect it to. But, as you know, Gingrich has a very sort of intricate web of organizations and some are tax free, some aren't, some are political organizations, sort of inter-woven, and what the Democrats think is that this seemingly very narrow inquiry will inexorably lead to some of these other questions and that no self-respecting counsel wouldn't ask to go into those and there will be a lot of public pressure. That's was brought this on, and that the committee wouldn't really be in very good standing if it said, well, we don't want to hear about that, so it's more dangerous for Gingrich than it looks right now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what do you think about what Paul called "wrist slapping," the other matters that were considered violations of House rules but there was nothing done about it, how do you explain that, and is it just wrist slapping? They did say there were violations, and there was--in the letter, there was a criticism of the book contract. Go ahead.
MS. DREW: Let me put it this way. I don't think you or Paul or I would like to receive the kind of letter and have that be a public document. It didn't punish him or penalize him or say these things should be investigated, but he was rather harsh about it, but this was a plea bargain starring the Speaker of the House of the United States of America. It's not a trivial matter, and you don't take it lightly. The Democrats wanted a wide inquiry by the special counsel. They didn't get that. The Republicans wanted as narrow as possible; they got that, and the Democrats got the seemingly small question and tough letter follows. So it's not at the end of it at all.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the charges that the Republicans on the committee were too closely tied to GOPAC, the Political Action Committee that the Speaker headed until May this year?
MR. GIGOT: Well, GOPAC is a Political Action Committee that cut a wide swathe, and the--I think Nancy Johnson, the chairman of the committee, there's no question, she's been an ally politically within the house of Newt Gingrich. She voted for him for--when he was Whip, the No. 2 job, back in 1989. But I think in the GOPAC case, all she did was essentially speak on their behalf. GOPAC had little conferences and meetings, and she was a speaker. Look, the way the Ethics Committee works, it's a jury of your peers. They don't say that it's a jury of people who don't know you, who are not allies of you, and it was the same thing in Jim Wright, it was the same thing with Bob Packwood. I think that's a red herring.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, the Republicans are saying that they have shown that they can, you know, carry out an investigation internally and do the right thing. Do you think that's right? They've shown this to be true?
MS. DREW: Well, after 15 months under great pressure, I think that last week's Federal Election Commission charges about GOPAC sort of pushed this over the doorway, they could no longer do nothing. And when you ask, you know, why do we think they were so gentle, you've got a committee deliberately evenly divided, five-five, so you could spend four years in gridlock and never do anything. And that's why the amount of public pressure and pressure on Nancy Johnson in her district, sheer attempts to embarrass these people finally brought something forth. And that could happen again.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the charges by House Majority Leader Dick Armey and others this is a vendetta against the Speaker, what do you think about that, Elizabeth?
MS. DREW: Well, I think that when Gingrich says that the Democrats are out to destroy him, he's absolutely right. They are. And that's for two reasons. One is there's an unusual feeling that he engenders. I don't think I've ever seen it--I don't want to say what the analogy would be. It just would not be a good idea. But I haven't seen it for a very long time. It's hatred, because of his tactics when he was this guerrilla in the minority, not that the Democrats loved Jim Wright all that much, but they really don't like what he did to them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Wright, the former Speaker who Speaker Gingrich helped bring down.
MS. DREW: That's right. But second, if you removed Gingrich as an effective leader of the revolution, you'd be removing its heart, soul, mind, and energy. So they're after him both out of bad memories and because of the issues on which he is now their enemy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what do you think about that, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: Saying this case is about ethics is like saying the Civil War was about the price of cotton. I mean, this is hard-ball, nasty politics. I think Elizabeth is absolutely right when she says that this is a behead the king exercise, if you get rid of Gingrich, you get rid of the guy who brought the Republicans their majority. There's also another problem the Democrats have, and I think you're seeing it in this special election to replace a Congressman who left a Democrat, Norm Mineta, in Silicon Valley in California. The Democrat, it's going to be next Tuesday, and the Democrat in that race is essentially running against Newt Gingrich. He doesn't have any other issues. So in place of an agenda, go after Gingrich. And this is proving to be pretty good for them in the polls. He's not popu--he's a figure that's often strident. He's not easily liked, and it's proving to have some payoff for them, so I think the ethics problems are wrapped into it as essentially political strategy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the political strategy is likely to continue all through the next election year, right?
MS. DREW: Definitely. Both on this cloud, or whatever it is, that's over him, his--everybody was spinning like mad, Elizabeth, in the last 24 hours. The Democrats are happy and Gingrich's office is happy, but it's not really such a great day for Gingrich, and of course, the Democrats will stay after him until the election both on this and on the merits of issues.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's talk about the Federal Election Commission suit for a minute. They filed suit basically charging that GOPAC failed to register as a political, federal Political Action Committee, while it was helping fund Speaker Gingrich and other national candidates' campaigns. This is really a more serious charge than any of the other charges the Ethics Committee has dealt with, isn't that right, and what will happen to those? Will those be taken up by the Ethics Committee too?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I mean, Newt Gingrich sneezes and David Bonior files an ethics complaints, so I mean, he's going to file an ethics complaint on this one too, there's no question about it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So it'll end up before the Ethics Committee and the FEC will have its suit too.
MR. GIGOT: Yeah. And the court, which has jurisdiction over this. What's happened in that case is the FEC tried to settle the case I think for $150,000 with GOPAC, and GOPAC said no, we want to take this to court, and indeed, they did, and I think that was a political blunder on GOPAC's part, and the Speaker's, because now all these documents were out there which you could make political hay with.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So do you think that this is likely to be even a much bigger story in the weeks to come than what happened today or yesterday?
MS. DREW: The Democrats feel that GOPAC is at the heart of this whole thing in part because it was an unreporting sort of fund of money for people who contributed to Gingrich or his causes or his candidates or whatever, and there are, as I said earlier, all these little tentacles that go between that and other things that he's done. Whether it will get to that and how serious it's going to look, I don't know, but that is where his enemies want it to go.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you surprised that this has happened?
MS. DREW: No. No. I mean, they've been--first of all, some of this was discussed in previous years before anybody, including Gingrich--he did think so--but before many people thought he would be Speaker of the House, and because of this past that I mentioned, you know, he played rough, and they wanted to get even. When he was elected, then it started, it started on the book, it wasn't quite the clean slate on the book that you said Paul, because they said he appeared to be taking advantage of his office for money, and this really should be stopped, and there should be new rules. Now--
MR. GIGOT: Because the rules were unclear.
MS. DREW: Right. People say, well, it's Bonior. Bonior, David Bonior, who's the Whip, has led this charge but he wouldn't be doing it without the support and agreement of the majority of his caucus and his minority leader, Mr. Gephardt. So there's nothing surprising about that, and that it finally came to a special counsel. I think they have been actually negotiating about special counsel and what terms he would have and how much leeway he would have since last August, and I think it was a matter of time before it became public.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both for being with us.