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Gingrich admits ethical violation but ‘did not intend to mislead’

December 21, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ After two years of uncompromising denials, Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted today he violated House rules in the ethics case that has clouded his political future.

Penalties remain to be determined, but even so, the GOP high command in the House vowed to ensure Gingrich’s re-election as Speaker next year.

``In my name and over my signature, inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable statements were given to the (ethics) committee, but I did not intend to mislead,″ the powerful speaker said in a written statement.

``I did not seek personal gain, but my actions did not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.″

A more comprehensive document released by investigators also alleged that Gingrich failed to ``seek and follow″ legal advice that would have told him he was improperly using tax-exempt organizations to further political aims. Gingrich admitted in writing the charge was true.

The simultaneous statements capped a week of secret negotiations, and came as the Georgian angled to win re-election as speaker when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 7. Gingrich was nominated to the post by his GOP caucus, but associates said he was eager to dispose of the ethics controversy to head off a potential last-minute revolt among the Republican rank and file.

In a carefully scripted response, senior GOP leaders in the House issued a statement pledging ``our unequivocal support for Newt’s election″ as speaker.

There was no immediate response from senior Democrats.

The ethics charges have hung over Gingrich for more than two years. And within the full House, they have served as a political flash point for Democrats seeking to discredit the speaker and the Republicans who gained power in 1994 for the first time in 40 years.

Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the ethics subcommittee, released material detailing the panel’s declaration of alleged violations. Also included was a single-sentence admission of guilt by the speaker.

``I, Newt Gingrich, admit to the statement of alleged violations dated Dec. 21,″ it said.

Technically, the committee found that Gingrich’s conduct violated the House rule that obliges all lawmakers to conduct themselves ``at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.″

Goss said the investigative phase of the case was wrapped up, but the full House ethics committee would hold a hearing on possible penalties. Ultimately, the full House may be called on to write the final chapter.

House rules outline several possible sanctions, ranging from curtailment of a lawmaker’s rights as a member of Congress to fine, reprimand, censure or even, in the most severe cases, expulsion.

A House ethics subcommittee of two members from each party has been investigating the tax-exempt financing of Gingrich’s college course. Last September, the panel expanded the probe to include whether the speaker had given accurate statements to investigators.

Rep. Ben Cardin of Maryland, point man for Democrats on the investigative subcommittee, said the action announced today was done with bipartisan support on the panel.

The announcement capped a week of bizarre developments, including an admission Thursday by a key Gingrich ally, Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., that the speaker had filed erroneous information with the committee. Linder blamed the error on Gingrich’s lawyer.

A day earlier, the lawyer, Jay Baran, confirmed he had withdrawn from the case but said any statements he submitted to the panel were approved in advance by the speaker. Within 24 hours, Baran and Blankley issued a statement saying the lawyer was still part of the defense team.

By admitting to every point in a 22 page ``statement of alleged violation,″ Gingrich agreed that he failed to ``seek and follow″ legal advice that would have demonstrated he improperly used tax-exempt organizations for political purposes.

He also admitted that he provided statements to the committee _ denying the political nature of his activities _ that he ``should have known was inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable.″

The committee statement said that the college course taught by Gingrich from 1993 to 1995 and three television programs _ all financed through tax-exempt organizations _ were political in nature. They were part of the operation of a Gingrich-led political action committee, GOPAC.

The committee said tax experts _ including one representing Gingrich _ agreed that if they had been consulted about the speaker’s activities, ``they would have advised that it not be conducted under the auspices″ of tax-exempt organizations.″

The false statements by Gingrich were submitted on March 27, 1995, and Dec. 8, 1994. The speaker described his college course as ``completely nonpartisan″ and ``wholly independent of GOPAC.″

The subcommittee began its probe on Dec. 6, 1995, and hired an outside counsel, former Justice Department prosecutor James Cole.

Originally, the panel was to determine whether there was ``reason to believe″ Gingrich’s activities in relation to a college course he taught violated tax law.

A complaint to the ethics committee alleged the course did not qualify for the tax-exempt donations that financed the lectures because it was a political activity under GOPAC _ a Gingrich-led political action committee.

On Sept. 26 the committee expanded the probe, in part to determine whether Gingrich ``provided accurate, reliable and complete information″ about the college course, GOPAC’s relationship to the course and a tax-exempt entity that financed it.

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