TOPICS > Politics

Embattled Leader House Speaker Newt Gingrich

December 23, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For congressional reaction we turn to two members of the House of Representatives, Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Peter King, a New York Republican. Rep. King, we heard a little bit of that on that clip from you about why you’ve decided to vote for sure, I guess, for the speaker on January 7th. Could you go into a little more detail about that for us?

REP. PETER KING, (R) New York: Sure. I’ve had political differences with the speaker in the past, and, in fact, last month, I suggested Henry Hyde be elected as the Republican candidate for speaker. I lost that political fight. Yesterday, the day before, I read very carefully a report of the Ethics Subcommittee which was signed by Democrats and Republicans and from reading it, there is not one allegation anywhere in the report of any intentional violation. There is no allegation at all that anyone, especially Newt Gingrich, lied. You know, that word has been thrown around quite a bit.

The fact is there have been mistakes made. There have been things that perhaps Newt Gingrich shouldn’t have done, but the fact is they do not rise to a serious level because there is no intentional violation. There is no intentional misconduct. And this isn’t me saying this. This is not Newt Gingrich saying it. It’s a bipartisan report of the Ethics Subcommittee with Democrats and Republicans. And when you figure that seventy-three to seventy-four charges were analyzed over almost a two-year period, and there is not one finding of even one intentional act of misconduct, to me, it would be wrong, and it would be a terrible precedent to set to deny someone your vote for speaker just because of random allegations when, in fact, the Ethics Subcommittee, under the House processes did not find one, not even one intentional violation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Rep. King, you also spoke at some length to the speaker and his attorney, is that right? And did they further convince you that this was not intentional? Was that the main topic of your conversation on Saturday?

REP. PETER KING: Yeah. I had made it clear last week that I thought Newt Gingrich owed the Republican conference, indeed, the entire Congress, an explanation on the misleading or false statements, evidence that was submitted to the subcommittee. I thought that was an extremely serious matter. I wanted to be assured, both from reading the report and also from a very extensive conversation with the speaker, and his attorney, that this was not done intentionally. And I now believe that this was not done intentionally because it would not have served any purpose.

The fact is that the speaker was on record saying that GOPAC did take part in this course. It would have made no sense at all for him to subsequently submit a false statement since he knows he would have been caught. I mean, no matter what anyone says about Newt Gingrich–and I have not always gotten along with him–but no one has ever said that Newt Gingrich is not smart. No one has ever said he’s crazy. And he would have had to have been dumb and crazy to submit an intentional mis-statement when he knows there was already a statement on record where he was saying the opposite. So, again, I have to make it clear that in this report nowhere does the subcommittee say that this was done intentionally. If they thought for a moment that this was done intentionally, they would have said that. Again, we have Democrats here and Republicans, and none of them said that there was an intentional mis-statement. To me, that is the key point, and that is what we have to go forward on.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rep. Frost, not intentional?

REP. MARTIN FROST, (D) Texas: Well, the Ethics Committee, it’s very interesting, if Peter read it “carefully,” the Ethics Committee said that on 13 occasions that Speaker Gingrich gave them false information. And they also said that he had reviewed the statement submitted by his lawyer prior to signing it. Now, let’s look at what happened here. I mean, Newt Gingrich, whether Peter wants to acknowledge or not, Newt Gingrich lied to the committee. There was an allegation that what started this was that congressional employees on their own congressional time were doing this political work, and so Newt filed a letter with the Ethics Committee in October of ’94.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s be clear that we’re talking about GOPAC’s involvement in the course.

REP. MARTIN FROST: That’s right. And there was an allegation that congressional employees were working on this. So Newt said, oh, no, no, no, congressional employees weren’t doing it; GOPAC did it. And then he hired a tax lawyer who said, no, you can’t say that, Newt, because if GOPAC did it, then that’s a violation of tax law. So then he filed two additional statements saying, no, GOPAC didn’t do it. So the question is congressional employees didn’t do it, GOPAC didn’t do it, who did it? Well, the committee and its report found clearly that GOPAC was actively involved in a political purpose. And the only question was actively involved in a political purpose. And the only question was whether this really did violate tax law, but Newt clearly lied to the committee. He clearly on 13 occasions mis-stated GOPAC’s role in this–in the preparation of dissemination of this course. And the only other point is that Newt when he was going after Jim Wright made the repeated statement that the speaker should be held to a higher ethical standard than the average member of Congress. Well, I think Newt was right when he made that statement. The speaker has lied to Congress. He has brought down shame on the Congress. He should not continue as speaker.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rep. King, what about that, the–you heard the statement that the speaker lied to Congress.

REP. PETER KING: We have a 22-page report filed by the Ethics Subcommittee, and not once was the word “lie” used, not once is the word “intentional” or the expression “intentional violation” Used, not once do they say that Newt perjured himself or lied. So it’s wrong for Martin and David Bonior and the other Democrats to use the word “lie.” What they’re doing is they’re doing the exact same thing they’ve accused Newt Gingrich of doing over the years, and that’s over-reaching. I think we should deal with the substance of the report and say, yes.

Newt Gingrich made mistakes, Newt Gingrich has not been perfect. But it will be a terrible precedent to set if because a person made a mistake or because a person has allegations made against him that he’s denied the opportunity to be speaker and that we vote against him on that reason because Martin, you know, to this extent I agree with you. I think a lot of Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, overreached in the past going after Democrats. They said things about Jim Wright that are now coming back to haunt them. I agree with you on that. What’s going to happen is you’re going to say things about Newt that’s going to come back to haunt you. I think we’re killing ourselves in the Congress by this cannibalizing, by this tearing each other apart. I think we should accept this report for what it is. It’s a criticism of Newt Gingrich. There should be action taken against him, but it should not be a censure, it should not be expulsion, and we should not be throwing around words like “lie.” A lie has a specific meaning.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me one second. Rep. King, what should the reaction be, in your view?

REP. PETER KING: I would say, at most, it should be a form of reprimand because there was no criminal violation here, there is no intentional violation, and I’ll say again nowhere in here does the word “lie” or “intentional mis-statement” appear anywhere.

REP. MARTIN FROST: They used false statements, and if I as a private citizen or if Peter as a private citizen signed a document prepared by my lawyer and filed it with the IRS, I would be in federal court today facing criminal charges. I mean, this is a complete double standard. He signed a document that he knew to be untrue, and it was false, he had reviewed it. The committee said clearly that it was false and that he had reviewed that document, and we’re talking about the person who is third in line to be President of the United States. There should be a higher ethical standard for the speaker, and the Republicans are entitled to have a speaker. And if Newt is not speaker, then Dick Armey should be speaker. They won the election. They get to have their candidate for speaker, but it should not be Newt Gingrich.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think the penalty should be?

REP. MARTIN FROST: I think he should be censured. I think that he was correct in the late 1980’s when he said a speaker should be held to a higher ethical standard.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think the penalty will be?

REP. MARTIN FROST: I have no idea, and I’m not going to try and second guess the Ethics Committee. I think these are honorable men and women who serve on that committee. They have not met yet to decide what the penalty will be, and I think they should be given the benefit of the doubt, and they may well recommend a censure. And if they don’t recommend a censure, that recommendation is open to amendment on the floor. We have had previous reports from the Ethics Committee where there has been an effort to amend those on the floor, so there will be a vote on the matter of whether Newt Gingrich should be censured because of lying to Congress.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that this will be a stormy session like seven years ago when Speaker Wright was apparently for–I mean, I remember there were days and days of stormy sessions then.

REP. MARTIN FROST: Well, I think this will be resolved relatively quickly on January 7th. That’s the first item of business, as to whether the speaker, the election of the speaker. If Newt is re-elected, then I think it will be up to the IRS to make a determination as to whether he violated the tax law. The committee’s own expert said he did violate that tax law. Newt’s lawyer, who admittedly is representing his own client, said, no, he didn’t violate the tax law. But the committee’s own expert said he did, and if, in fact, the IRS then finds that he did violate the tax law, I think we would see this matter again. But we need to get on with the business of the country, but we should be led by ethical people. There’s no question about that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rep. King, I want to let you respond to that, and also I want to ask you what you think this division does to the hopes of bipartisan activity in the Congress.

REP. PETER KING: Well, the fact is that the committee did not find that Newt violated 501C of the Internal Revenue Code. They’ve left that matter for the IRS, which is fine. I think they should do that. But I think also we can’t be too sanctimonious here. I mean, there’s many tax-exempt foundations that come very close to the line. I mean, black churches had Jesse Jackson going into them all during his campaigns. We had the Sierra Club and others which certainly work very closely with the Democratic Party. Also, on our side, we have tax-exempt foundations that work closely with the Republicans. So this is a fine line, and there is an equal division. Even in The New York Times today, not known as a friend of Newt Gingrich, said there experts on both sides who say that this either could or could not be a violation of the IRS code, let the IRS decide that. Now, as far as going ahead, Martin and I agree on this. We have to get this resolved early and get it over with. There’s too many issues confronting this country, whether it’s Medicare, whether it’s the budget, whether it’s tax relief, and we have to find ways to work together, and I hope this–we’re going to have a stormy session on January 7th. It’s going to very rough, tough politics, but I hope that we can get this behind us one way or the other, and let’s go forward to work for the American people.

REP. MARTIN FROST: An interesting commentary. The Associated Press ran a story today quoting Richard Phelan, who was the special counsel in the Jim Wright case. Phelan said there is a difference between what happened with Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich. He said that Jim Wright never lied to a congressional committee and that Newt Gingrich did, and that the Republicans are engaged in a cover-up, that they’re engaged in trying to snow the American public, and trying to explain away why it’s all right for a high public official to lie to Congress. I think it’s wrong. I think the public expects better out of our top officials.

REP. PETER KING: All I can say is Mr. Phelan must not have read the report because not once, not once is the word “lie” used in this report. I think we’re not doing ourselves or the Congress or Newt Gingrich or anyone, not doing anyone any justice–

REP. MARTIN FROST: But he said he didn’t tell the truth.

REP. PETER KING: –they didn’t use the word “lie.” It’s not a lie. We have–

REP. MARTIN FROST: Lying and not telling the truth are exactly the same.

REP. PETER KING: No, the fact is–


REP. PETER KING: –you have to have intent, Martin. You know that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: –that’s all the time we have.

REP. PETER KING: That’s why you were defending Jim Wright so strongly.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you both very much for being with us.

REP. PETER KING: Merry Christmas!