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Potentially Illegal Gingrich Tape Turned Over To Criminal Investigators

John and Alice Martin

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 13) -- A potentially illegal recording of a cell phone conversation involving House Speaker Newt Gingrich was handed over to federal criminal investigators tonight, the House ethics committee's chief counsel said.

First the tape was sent to the committee by Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington state, the committee's ranking Democrat. A Florida couple who taped the call told a news conference in Gainesville, Florida today they gave the recording to McDermott last week.

McDermott promptly sent the tape to the ethics committee Monday afternoon. But the committee's chief counsel, Theodore J. Van Der Meid, wrote McDermott that the committee refused to accept the tape and, after consultations with the chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, forwarded it to the Justice Department.

Florida Couple Says They Gave Gingrich Tape To McDermott

The Florida couple, John and Alice Martin, confirmed they gave a tape of an intercepted cell phone conversation among House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his top allies to McDermott, the senior Democrat on the House ethics committee.

In a news conference, John and Alice Martin said they overheard the conversation on a police scanner in their car during a Christmas shopping trip and after three or four minutes, decided to tape it.

At first, Mrs. Martin said, they simply thought it would "neat" to have a tape of important people speaking for a soon-to-be-born grandson. Afterward, however, they thought it might be important for the ethics committee to hear.

"We just felt that somebody needed to hear it besides us," said John Martin.

The couple, who are Democratic activists in their home state, turned it over to McDermott during a Washington, D.C., visit to witness the swearing-in of a new Florida congressman.

turner.larry

The Martins' attorney, Larry Turner, said it's illegal under federal and Florida law to eavesdrop on regular or cell phone conversations, and there is a chance the couple will be prosecuted. Asked if she was concerned about that, an obviously nervous Mrs. Martin said, "Yeah. I guess we have to be."

Turner, however, said he hopes authorities will not prosecute because the couple was trying to do what they thought was right when they turned over the tape.

"If they determine to prosecute it, we'll defend it," the attorney said.

Even before the afternoon news conference, Republicans believed McDermott, who represents the Seattle, Washington, area, was responsible for leaking the tape to the news media. The tape was provided to The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and both reported on its contents last week.

The conversation, held by Gingrich and other Republicans on Dec. 21, took place the same day the speaker admitted to ethical errors and promised not to organize a defensive strategy with other GOP leaders. Democrats point to the tape as evidence that Gingrich violated his promise. Republicans say it proves Gingrich was not involved in plotting strategy.

The Times reported that the tape was obtained by a Democratic congressman who is unfriendly to Gingrich. A GOP source told CNN that "it is totally in the hands of the Democrats to disprove that McDermott was behind the tape release. He hasn't denied anything, and it looks like the ranking Democrat on the committee has corrupted the ethics process." McDermott declined to comment to TIME, which this week also identified him as a leading suspect in its release.

The Martins nabbed signals destined for the cellular phone of House Republican Caucus Chairman John Boehner of Ohio. He was listening to the call while parked in a restaurant parking lot in Florida. According to the source, Boehner has not precluded the possibility of filing ethics charges in the matter of the recorded phone call. Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois and other Republicans asked Attorney General Janet Reno to refer the tape of the intercepted phone call to the Justice Department's criminal division for investigation, because it is illegal to secretly record telephone conversations.


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