On the Dole
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KWAME HOLMAN: It took three months, but today House Speaker Newt Gingrich came up with a way to pay the $300,000 penalty ordered by the House Ethics Committee. Gingrich went into a meeting with fellow House Republicans this morning to tell them first. Then he went to the floor of the House of Representatives to tell the nation.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: I have arranged to borrow the money from Bob Dole, a close personal friend of impeccable integrity, and I will personally pay it back. The taxpayers will be fully reimbursed. The agreement will be completely honored.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reportedly, it was Bob Dole, himself, who first made the loan offer to Gingrich–through an intermediary–two to three weeks ago. Dole and Gingrich spoke on the phone Tuesday morning and got together Tuesday night. Under the terms of the agreement Bob Dole will loan the $300,000 to Newt Gingrich. The Speaker may repay the loan anytime within the next eight years at an annual interest rate of 10 percent.
Dole, in a written statement today, said: “I consider this not only an opportunity to support a friend but a long-term investment in the future of our party. Today we bring this story to a close and a united Republican Party moves forward with its positive vision for the next millennium as articulated by one of our most effective leaders, Newt Gingrich.”
The $300,000 penalty results from an Ethics Committee investigation into Gingrich’s use of money from tax-exempt organizations to fund a college course and TV project, both of which the committee determined had clear political objectives. Gingrich was reprimanded and also ordered to pay the penalty because the committee found Gingrich had been less than cooperative during the investigation.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: The point about us making that penalty is that it would prolong the investigation because the information was not accurate and reliable, it came to the committee, is that not so?
JAMES COLE, Ethics Investigator: That is correct. It really relates directly to the burdens that were placed on the House as a result of not getting accurate information in the first place. If we had, if the House had–if the Committee had gotten truthful answers, accurate answers to those questions, in the first place. I think it was the view of I know myself and I’m sure the members of the subcommittee that we wouldn’t be here at this time. We would have–we would have resolved this matter long ago.
KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker Gingrich agreed to pay the penalty but wasn’t sure how to do it. Using his campaign funds would be legal, he was told, but not politically advisable. There were reports Gingrich’s wife, Marianne, initially was opposed to using their personal funds, but that, in fact, is what they’re going to do.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH: Marianne and I decided whatever the consequences we had to do what was best, what was right morally and spiritually. We had to put into perspective how our lives have been torn apart by the weight of this decision. We had to take into account the negative feelings that Americans have about government, Congress, and scandals. We had to take into account the responsibility that the Speaker of the House has to a higher standard, and that is why we came to the conclusion of our own choice without being forced; that I have a moral obligation to pay the $300,000 out of personal funds that any other step would simply be seen as one more politician shirking his duty, and one more politician shirking his duty and one more example of failing to do the right thing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Word that the speaker had decided how to pay his penalty had swirled around Capitol Hill for the past two days. And this morning, the atmosphere on the House floor was politically charged an hour before the Speaker arrived.
REP. BILL PAXON, (R) New York: Mr. Gingrich, our speaker, is stepping forward once again to set a high standard of personal responsibility to pay this reimbursement out of his personal resources, and I believe that every member of this House should step forward and commend the Speaker.
REP. JENNIFER DUNN, (R) Washington: It seems to me that when you have a Speaker of the House that’s willing to set a standard in the House of Representatives, maybe a standard the White House can take a little information from, we ought to praise him.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT, (D) Texas: This decision, though belated, should be accepted by this House on both sides of the aisle, accepted but not applauded, not applauded any more than we would applaud the decision of a major polluter who had injured the public health and welfare through its pollution.
REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) Georgia: Speaker Gingrich admitted to bringing discredit on the House of Representatives. He has admitted to lying to this House.
KWAME HOLMAN: And five months after returning to private life Bob Dole again was the target of a political attack.
REP. GEORGE MILLER, (D) California: Bob Dole, who was recently hired by big tobacco, we now have the chief lobbyist for big tobacco financing the payoff of the Speaker’s fine for lying to the Congress.
REP. DICK ARMEY, Majority Leader: I can’t imagine anything that is more deplorable than somebody going on the floor of the House of Representatives and questioning the integrity of Bob Dole just a few short months after the President of the United States gives him the American Freedom Award, the highest honor that can be given by a President to a civilian in this country.
KWAME HOLMAN: As for Newt Gingrich, he spent 18 minutes on the House floor making no mention of the political firestorm surrounding his decision.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH: This House is at the center of freedom. And it deserves from all of us a commitment to be worthy of that honor. Today I am doing what I can to personally live up to that calling and that standard. I hope my colleagues will join me in that quest. May God bless this House, and may God bless America. Thank you. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Some Republicans in the House have complained recently about Gingrich’s leadership during this session of Congress, but for today at least, they all were in support of him, and several Democrats crossed the aisle to congratulate the Speaker as well.