Gingrich return to the spotlight colored by messy divorce
September 1, 1999
Web posted at: 6:33 p.m. EDT (2233 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About this time a year, ago then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich was considered by many to be a GOP presidential prospect.
Now Gingrich is out of office and caught up in embarrassing divorce proceedings.
Nonetheless, Gingrich is stepping up his public profile this week with the airing of a C-SPAN interview and a Friday speech to a conservative group that will be open to the media.
C-SPAN is airing an interview with Newt Gingrich this week
It is intensifying the focus on Gingrich's past and his future.
After serving as the architect of the Republican Party's triumphant capture of Congress in the 1994 election, Gingrich reached the pinnacle of his political career in January 1995 by becoming House speaker.
Just as victory earned him the gavel, the GOP's loss of five seats in the 1998 elections took it away.
"I can hardly stand by and allow the party to cannibalize itself in that situation and I thought it was best for all of us. Marianne and I have lots of things to do," Gingrich said November 7, 1998, the day after announcing he would leave the speaker's office.
But even as he stepped down and quit the House, Gingrich remained popular with core Republicans. As late as July, when he taped an interview with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb, he would not rule out a return to politics.
"I always tell people I'm the same age as Ronald Reagan was when he became governor of California," Gingrich said with a coy smile, adding, "I just leave it at that."
But just as he is leaving the door open for a return to the public stage, Gingrich finds himself in the middle of a messy divorce -- complete with allegations of an affair with a younger staffer.
Marianne Gingrich has received permission to question 33-year-old congressional aide Callista Bisek, Gingrich's reported mistress.
"This is awfully discouraging, and he's not the leader anymore, and if this stuff is true, I'm very glad he's not our leader anymore," former Education Secretary Bill Bennett said in a recent interview.
The details of the divorce proceedings leave Gingrich open to charges of hypocrisy, because he criticized and eventually voted to impeach President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky matter.
"To be quite honest, I am sickened by how unpatriotically they undermine the Constitution of the United States on behalf of their client," Gingrich said of Clinton's defense team in an April 1998 speech before his political action committee, GOPAC. "I will never again, as long as I am speaker, make a speech without commenting on this topic."
But Gingrich said the president deserved impeachment for lying under oath, not because of his relationship with Lewinsky.
"There's a level of detail here which is grotesque and demeaning to every American. We just don't need to know. Let's put it back in the tabloids. Let's get it off television. Let's get it off radio," Gingrich said in April 1998.
That did not happen. Clinton is still waiting to see how his political achievements will be remembered in the wake of the sex-and-perjury scandal. Gingrich also may have to wait out his latest personal turmoil to decide whether a formal return to the public stage will be accepted by both his party and the American people.
CNN's Bernard Shaw contributed to this report.