Embattled Leader House Speaker Newt Gingrich
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Up until this past weekend, several House Republicans were saying they weren’t sure they would vote for Newt Gingrich when the House elects its next speaker in January. Last month, Republicans nominated Gingrich to be their candidate for speaker by unanimous consent; however, the ongoing ethics investigation of Gingrich had some Republicans withholding final judgment, putting Gingrich’s re-election as speaker in some doubt. But even the most skeptical Republicans seemed ready to support Gingrich following the weekend release of the Ethics Committee report. Congressman Peter King of New York was one of those who had until yesterday withheld judgment.
REP. PETER KING: Based on yesterday’s report I intend to vote for the speaker for re-election because I don’t see anything in there that rises to a level that should deny him re-election.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On Saturday, a four-member ethics subcommittee, two Republicans and two Democrats, finally issued its report on a complaint made against Gingrich two years ago. It determined that Gingrich did, indeed, violate House rules by using tax-exempt organizations to fund a televised town meeting and a college course he taught for three years in Georgia named Renewing American Civilization.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: The concept of a reform movement is not new in America. You have these cycles, these waves of reform that have happened again and again.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The subcommittee found the course to be clearly politically partisan in message, a message which was beamed by satellite to conservative organizations around the country. The subcommittee said Gingrich should have sought legal advice in setting up the course to ensure he wouldn’t violate federal tax laws. But the subcommittee did not determine whether Gingrich did, in fact, violate tax laws. That will be left to the Internal Revenue Service to determine. The subcommittee also said Gingrich had supplied it with false information regarding the course’s connection to GOPAC, the conservative Political Action Committee Gingrich once headed. However, the subcommittee did not say whether Gingrich had intentionally misled it.
Throughout the investigation Gingrich had denied any wrongdoing, but instead of challenging the subcommittee’s findings, he issued a statement of admission. “I was overconfident and naive. With deep sadness, I agree. I brought down on the people’s house a controversy which could weaken the faith people have in their government. I accept responsibility for this, and I deeply regret it.” Ironically, Gingrich first became a nationally known political figure in 1987 when he began his one-man ethics assault against then-Democrat House Speaker Jim Wright.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: I think he’s clearly–based on the public record–the least ethical speaker in the 20th century.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Wright eventually was forced to resign from the House. Now it’s Michigan Democrat David Bonior leading the ethics assault against Gingrich.
DAVID BONIOR: I think this is going to the full committee for punishment, and it ought to be an open hearing so the American people can have this laid out and can understand the dynamics here and the scope of the violations with respect to lying to the Congress and the tax scheme that Mr. Gingrich was involved with.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The full Ethics Committee could send to the House the recommendation of punishment for Gingrich ranging from a mild reprimand to a censure, which could prevent him from serving as speaker. But even then, the committee will not be done with Gingrich as it continues to investigate complaints that he received illegal campaign contributions for personal use from GOPAC.