Gingrich Faces Reprimand, $300,000 Penalty
Punishment Would Allow Speaker To Retain Post
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 17) -- After a year of investigation, the House ethics committee voted 7-1 to recommend a reprimand and $300,000 penalty to punish Speaker Newt Gingrich for his admitted ethics violations.
After a six-hour public hearing, ethics committee members went into closed session, then emerged about a half hour later with their decision. The recommendation goes to the full House next Tuesday.
Special counsel James Cole, who laid out the case against Gingrich, said he had originally favored filing an accusation that Gingrich had violated tax laws in connection with the financing of his "Renewing American Civilization" college course.
But Cole said there was a concern on the House panel's investigative subcommittee about usurping the role of the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Tax Court, and the focus shifted from tax law to Gingrich's behavior. (288K AIFF or WAV sound)
Ultimately, Gingrich admitted to two violations: that he should have sought tax advice and that he provided inaccurate information to the committee during its probe.
The investigative subcommittee also believes Gingrich violated a Dec. 21 agreement not to orchestrate a counter-attack against the ethics committee's charges. In a now-infamous intercepted cellular telephone call, Gingrich was recorded discussing such a counter-strategy with top GOP leaders.
Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) released a document indicating an organized effort by Republicans to rebut Democratic critics. But the committee made no finding that Gingrich had violated the no counter-attack agreement.
"The penalty recommendation the committee will consider is tough and unprecedented compared to past cases," Johnson said. "The committee's decision will be guided by its belief that the speaker of the House must be held to the highest ethical standards. No one is above the rules of the House."
Cole, known as a careful investigator, methodically laid out Gingrich's use of tax-exempt organizations to help finance educational projects that had clear partisan purposes.
Cole said the investigative subcommittee found that Gingrich was well aware of previous case law on use of tax-deductible contributions to finance such partisan activity.
The committee also found, Cole said, that Gingrich had been involved with non-profit organizations "to a sufficient degree to know that politics and tax-deductible contributions, as his lawyer stated, are an explosive mix. And he was clearly involved in a project that had significant partisan political goals."
Moreover, Gingrich took an aggressive approach to the tax laws, despite warnings not to use tax-deductible contributions, Cole said.
"He should have heeded these warnings and he did not," Cole said. "He did not take the trouble to get the advice he should have and as a result this matter is here today."
But Gingrich's attorneys said he never intended to mislead the committee and argued it is common for people to work with both partisan and non-profit organizations.
"He means to do the right thing," said Gingrich attorney Ed Bethune. "Newt has been the most investigated man that has ever come through this Congress."
In their portion of the hearing, committee members pressed the attorneys to explain the case, with Democrats emphasizing Gingrich's misdeeds and Republicans stressing what they saw as mitigating factors.
Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio) asked Cole about his use of the word "reckless" to describe Gingrich's behavior. Cole repeated that Gingrich simply did not heed warnings about use of tax-deductible contributions and, in fact, spoke about being entrepreneurial in how he financed his political activities.
The full House is scheduled to vote on the proposed punishment on Tuesday. The $300,000 assessment is intended to cover the additional work prompted by the inaccurate information Gingrich provided to the committee. It was not clear how Gingrich would make the payment, or whether he could use campaign contributions to do so.
The proposed sanction represents a middle ground between a reprimand and censure, which would have forced him to give up the speaker's post. Gingrich was re-elected 10 days ago to the post, though a handful of Republicans refused to vote for him while the ethics case remained unresolved.
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