TOPICS > Politics

Judgement Day for Speaker Newt Gingrich

January 21, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, the views of two key members of the House Ethics Committee and its investigative subcommittee. Republican Porter Goss of Florida, Democrat Benjamin Cardin of Maryland.

Congressman Goss, was justice done today?

REP. PORTER GOSS, (R) Florida: I think so. I think we had a very firm, a very fair, and a very thorough process. And I think he came up with the right penalty. I think that the Speaker acknowledged that when he admitted it, and I am delighted that we had the type of support we had from our colleagues on the floor. I think they were well informed. I think they concluded with us by and large, and if my guess is right on my arithmetic, better than 90 percent of them agreed with us.

JIM LEHRER: Justice, Congressman Cardin?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN, (D) Maryland: I agree with Mr. Goss. We’re pleased that we were able to get a bipartisan support for the resolution. It’s appropriate for the rules that were violated by Mr. Gingrich. We need to make it clear that what we did today is impose a sanction to a member of Congress who violated our rules. I think that, as Nancy Johnson said, they’re tough–the tough sanction was appropriate for the rules that were violated.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Goss, what do you say to your fellow Republicans, Lamar Smith being one? We just heard him. Tom Delay, the Minority Whip, also followed and said the same thing; that this punishment was too harsh.

REP. PORTER GOSS: There’s no question that there are a number of views about this punishment that we suggested. There are some who feel it was too harsh. There are some who feel it was too lenient. And then there was the great body who finally read the report and came to the same conclusion that the subcommittee, eventually the committee did, and I would suggest that that is the reason we have the process we do. There is a due process protection in this. We have subcommittee, and they make a decision, and then a committee makes a decision and a recommendation, and then the full body, the members are allowed to exercise their judgment. I can’t think of a fairer or a better process. And in this case it actually worked pretty well I believe.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Cardin, on your side, there are Democrats who think this was too lenient; that the next stage of censure should have been–should have been–that should have been the sanction, which would have meant Speaker Gingrich stepping aside. What do you say to them?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: I think as you have posed the question to Mr. Goss and to me, we came up the right sanction. Surely, there are Democrats and Republicans that are not satisfied with what we did, but the overwhelming majority have supported it. And I think that’s the best endorsement we can. Let me make one point clear. This is not–this is a sad day for the House. We all understand that. No one wants to see one of our members brought into a reprimand and a sanction. It has effect on all of us. This is something under the Constitution we’re required to do, and I think Democrats and Republicans both understand the seriousness of this matter. We are pleased that we were able to bring it to a bipartisan conclusion, and we hope that we can now get onto legislative business.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Goss, you said a couple of times now that this process worked. And you seem rather proud of that. For a while it looked like a circus. It looked like just the opposite. What happened? What happened to cause it to look like a circus, and what happened to–what happened to bring it together with this result?

REP. PORTER GOSS: There will be a lot of discussion about that. I think what happened to bring it together, this result, is that we’ve got four people who started out with very different perspectives on our subcommittee but with open minds. And we all walked a little bit in everybody else’s shoes. We had a very brilliant special prosecutor, a special investigator, who is a prosecutor, Jim Cole, who knew how to ask the right questions and go to the right places and find information. He brought back well-screened information. We did a lot–I think full credit to the–that we were given, in a very bipartisan way, the four of us meeting and talking–and I think Mr. Cardin will agree with this–were not there as Republicans or Democrats, we were there on behalf of the House of Representatives, our constitutional requirement to do our job, to police ourselves.

Our purpose was to search for the truth, and I think we came as close as you can. Now, I will be the first to admit that if any one of the four of us had sat down and wrote the final conclusion, it would have been different. It was a consensus that we came up with, and that is part of what this process is. How did it get to be such a circus? I would like to say–I hope Ben would agree with me on this–that from the time that we had it, which was basically last January to December 21st, we didn’t have too much of a circus. We basically were able to work in I think a very professional and insulated way. And we came up with our conclusions. There were no leaks to speak of. We did make a couple of public statements during that process which we thought were appropriate because of extremely unusual events, such as broadening our original charter that we had to go after, that mattered. When the thing started to get out of hand again was when we got into what we call spin time, after we made our statement of alleged violation and people started to go out and characterize what we had done in ways that suited partisan goals or other goals, special interest goals, whatever it may have been.

It got a little out of control. We had a feeding frenzy by the media, and we had probably more disinformation than information going out. And as a result, we had a lot of confused people in this country and a lot of confused colleagues at a time when other important events were happening in this country, including the election of the speakership. So we had a turmoil, and one of the lessons I’ve learned from this, and I hope Mr. Cardin would agree with this conclusion, is perhaps we can go back and adjust the process in a bipartisan way and protect against some of the things that went wrong in the process from outside of the Ethics Committee.

JIM LEHRER: How did it look to you, Mr. Cardin? What’s your description of what happened and why?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: You started your show by some of the compliments we paid to each other. That’s normally done on the Hill when a bill is moving forward, but I can tell you it was genuine feeling that the four of us had for each other. The reason why we were able to conclude this matter is because of the work of the four members, two Democrats and two Republicans, in understanding each other, in coming to an understanding that we think is fair to Mr. Gingrich, the House, and to the Congress as a whole. We understand each other. When it got outside of our four, when it got to the full House and the full committee, partisan activities took over for a while. The reason we were able to get it back on track is the commitment that we had to make sure that we could conclude this matter in a fair way. I must tell you during the last four or five days–I think the chairwoman–I mentioned that before–Mrs. Johnson, played a critical part to make sure that we could get this matter completed in a fair manner. So it was–got out of hand because of partisan activities. We got it back on track. The final results are in the best interests of the Congress and the American people, I’m just very proud of the fact that we have people in Congress who want to work together as Democrats and Republicans in order to do the right thing.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Goss, where do you come down on this question of where this $300,000 should come from, from the Speaker’s personal funds, his campaign funds, or wherever?

REP. PORTER GOSS: Basically, we gave it a little discussion in our subcommittee, not a comprehensive discussion. And we sort of concluded that as long as it was a legal, ethical source that he was using in an appropriate source, that it was sort of his decision. Now, there are personal preferences there, and I would agree that politically the smart thing should be personal, and I would believe under the circumstances that the Speaker may come to that conclusion. We’ve left him the latitude to make the choice, and I would be very, very realistic, I think, if I said that part of the judgment of the Speaker of how he has proceeded to accept his penalty and move on, it’s going to be in the determination of how he deals with this matter of the payment as a penalty. So we’re giving him the chance to do what I would suggest would be the right thing.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Cardin, how do you feel about it?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, I feel very strongly it should come from his personal funds. As you had a little piece before, this was a personal obligation that should come from his personal funds. Mr. Cole, our special counsel, I think said it best. If he doesn’t do it right, that’s Mr. Gingrich, he runs the risk of coming back before the Ethics Committee. It must be from a legal source. It must be from an ethical source. I think, more importantly, it also must be from a source that gives credibility to the fact that this sanction is personal to the Speaker and is meant, I think, to be carried out as a personal obligation.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Cardin, Congresswoman Johnson and many others and you all alluded to it too, particularly Congressman Goss, that this thing is over now, and let’s put it aside, everybody seems to be saying to each other. Is that realistic?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, the vote today was on the sanctions for the violations that were committed by Mr. Gingrich and admitted to by Mr. Gingrich. It’s not a vote on the speakership. We’ve said that over again. Mr. Goss and I both have said that. I think in the days and weeks ahead, that’s an issue that the Speaker is going to have to determine what impact this has on the speakership, as well as the members of the House. But as far as the violations that were in the statement of alleged violations, the violations as it relates to tax issues and the mis-statements to the Ethics Committee, I believe that matter is now over. With the compliance by Mr. Gingrich of the sanctions that were approved today, that should end this, and we want to get on with our legislative business.

JIM LEHRER: On with legislative business now, Congressman Goss?

REP. PORTER GOSS: I think that we’ve got a great opportunity to deal with legislative business right now, and I’ll tell you why. I believe that we have got a President who’s very interested in his place in history and wants to leave a legacy. I think we have a Speaker who wants to redeem himself and also accomplish some great legislative progress in the next couple of years. I believe we have a Congress that wants to do, I think a public that wants us to do that, and I think we certainly have some very clear challenges, whether in the area of economics or the way we go about taking care of our needs in this country, or our foreign affairs in this country. There are challenges out there. I think we have got ourselves in a situation where we have an atmosphere which is opportunity for us. I think if we didn’t do anything else, if we have to find a silver lining in this, perhaps that was the silver lining that we find today.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see the same silver lining, Congressman Cardin?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: We need to get on with legislative business. We need to have more bipartisanship in this institution, and it’s gotten to be way, way too partisan of an institution. I hope that the example set by the investigative subcommittee of working together in a bipartisan manner will spread to other work in this Congress. We need to deal with the budget. We need to deal with education. We need to deal with environment. I could just go on–and campaign finance reform. Let’s do it in a bipartisan way.

JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.