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Special counsel reportedly recommends Gingrich be fined

Ethics panel to hold public hearing

January 17, 1997
Web posted at: 9:10 a.m. EST


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A special counsel's report on House Speaker Newt Gingrich's ethical lapses reportedly recommends a stiff fine, reprimand and possible Justice Department investigation.

Congressional aides said the report from the House ethics committee's special counsel James Cole called for a large fine and for sending the evidence he uncovered to the Justice Department. The amount of the fine has not been disclosed but The Baltimore Sun quoted sources as saying Cole recommended it be more than $100,000..

But House Democrats and Republicans are still deadlocked over approval of the report, according to ethics committee sources.

A majority of committee members must approve the report. There are four Republicans and four Democrats on the committee. Until they agree, any open hearing could be delayed or even postponed.

The House is set to vote Tuesday on a punishment for Gingrich. A reprimand for bringing discredit upon the House would allow the Georgia Republican to retain his powerful post. A more serious censure would make him ineligible to serve as speaker under Republican caucus rules.

Public proceeding planned Friday

The House ethics committee planned a public proceeding Friday to hear from Cole and a lawyer for Gingrich. After a closed meeting, the panel also planned to make public Cole's report, which was believed to be 200-300 pages.

The committee first had to accept the final language of Cole's report at its private session Friday morning. There was no guarantee the acceptance would be a formality because members of the equally divided committee have waged constant partisan warfare.

"Nancy's goal is to provide full public disclosure of every aspect of this case," said an unidentified aide to committee Chairwoman Nancy Johnson, R-Connecticut. "The committee will meet (in closed session). At that point, it will resolve details regarding a public hearing."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Maryland, adding a touch of uncertainty, said, "We don't know what's going to happen" at the public session.

Sometime after these sessions, the committee would deliberate on punishment for the speaker and make a recommendation to the House.

Gingrich at wait-and-see stage

Gingrich was not expected to testify at the televised public hearing, and has not decided whether to address the House on Tuesday, said a Republican, who commented only on condition of anonymity.

"We're going to do whatever we're asked to do and we are going to try to be helpful," Gingrich said when asked by reporters if he would appear at the hearing.

Throughout Thursday evening, Cole worked on his report as lawmakers on the eight-member committee met with him and read draft language.

The counsel has gathered information about Gingrich's use of tax-exempt activities to further political goals and about misleading statements given the committee under the speaker's name.

Gingrich confessed December 21 to violating the rules, admitting he should have sought specific legal advice about financing his college course and a town hall television project with tax-exempt donations. He took responsibility for inaccurate assertions that GOPAC, his former political organization, had no role in the college course.

Just a week ago, it appeared that the ethics committee would be engaged this week in dramatic televised hearings, during which Cole would air his findings before the panel made its recommendations on punishment to the House.

But the committee's plans, and the political dynamics, changed radically.

Democrats on the ethics committee demanded at a news conference last week that next Tuesday's House vote be postponed. At the time, under a unanimous committee agreement, Cole's report was due by February 4 and Democrats argued that lawmakers should read it before voting on punishment.

However, chairwoman Johnson and the other Republican members then had their own news conference. She unilaterally postponed the hearings, gave Cole the deadline of Thursday and said shorter hearings would follow.


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