WASHINGTON (AP) _ A special counsel is likely to widen the inquiry into the activities of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, says Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., one of his most outspoken critics.

Schroeder said any Republican attempt to narrow the probe could backfire.

She pointed to the 1988 House ethics committee decision, instigated by Gingrich, to appoint an outside counsel to investigate then-Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas. Wright resigned a year later after the counsel, Richard Phelan, expanded the investigation beyond the original bounds set by the committee.

``Unless they appoint some total puppet, this special counsel is going to come back'' and ask for more information, Schroeder said Sunday on ABC's ``This Week With David Brinkley.''

``The same as in the Wright case, do we now have the special counsel going out and finding more stuff that comes back and makes us move beyond just trying to slap hands?'' she asked.

The five Democrats and five Republicans on the ethics committee last week unanimously voted to appoint an outside counsel to look into whether Gingrich violated tax codes in using funds raised by GOPAC, the political action committee he headed, to finance a college course he taught.

Gingrich, R-Ga., has claimed that the panel's decision exonerated him in that it dismissed 64 other allegations of wrongdoing Democrats had made against him.

``This isn't anywhere close to what Jim Wright went through,'' said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who appeared with Schroeder on ABC. Wright allegedly accepted gifts and sought to evade House outside income limits. Democrats, DeLay said, ``are misusing and abusing the ethics process for political gain.''

The ethics complaints against Gingrich grew from several years of behind-the-scenes investigations by members of the Democratic Party, who later conferred with former Gingrich aides after the actual complaint was filed in 1994, according to Newsweek magazine.

The aides, who were in contact with Gingrich's ex-wife, Jackie, also tried to shop a tell-all book to a New York publisher, which turned down the idea, Newsweek reported in its Dec. 18 editions, due on newsstands Monday.

Gingrich divorced his first wife, the speaker's high school math teacher, in 1981 while she was battling cancer.

Schroeder said Democrats got the special counsel they have been seeking for the past year by agreeing that Gingrich would not be punished for three violations cited by the committee. He was admonished for giving out a toll-free number for tapes for his college course on the House floor, publicizing a GOPAC meeting on the House floor and allowing a political adviser to use his office.

``It's very clear what happened on the ethics committee is that they plea-bargained this. Democrats got their special counsel with supposedly a leash on them.''

DeLay acknowledged that the publicity about Gingrich was having some side effects. ``A leader of a revolution always gets bad press or gets attacked like this and he goes down in the polls.''