Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gingrich Wins, For Now

"If Nancy Pelosi has this information, Barack Obama has this information."

That might have been wishful thinking on the part of Romney communications director Gail Gitchko.      She spoke a day or two before the South Carolina primary when her candidate, contrary to what I expected a week and a half ago, was poised to lose to Newt Gingrich. But it may have been more than grasping at straws.    

Gingrich voters are under what is likely a false impression. Analyzing the Gingrich victory, Dave Weigel this morning noted that when he talked to South Carolina Republicans

In Charleston, a voter named Jayne Harmon claimed that Gingrich would “dismantle” the president.In Monck’s Corner, I learned that Gingrich would “humiliate” him. 

In Columbia, I was told that Obama would be “lacerated” or “annihilated.” When Gingrich spoke, and repeated his promise to challenge Obama to seven debates, a biker named Vincent Sbraccia hoisted his sign and screamed: “Wipe the floor with him! Wipe the floor with him!”

Not so fast. Let's turn the clock back to Newt's heyday, when he was obsessed with the evils of adultery when committed by Democrats.     Marvin Olasky interviewed Gingrich to determine what David Schippers, chief investigative council to Representative Henry Hyde (R-Ill) for the inquiry into impeachment of Bill Clinton, termed the "roadblocks" put up by Gingrich to investigation of the President. Olasky reported

My interviewing was part of an attempt to reexamine an extraordinary statement by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Gingrich's chief lieutenant from 1995 through 1998. In the course of a long interview last fall, he told me that President Bill Clinton "found out about the Gingrich affair and called Newt over to the White House for a private meeting between the two of them." Armey argued that Clinton pressured Gingrich to go easy on that year's impeachment drive "or I'll start telling your story." He claimed the two leaders "had many meetings that we didn't know about where they'd drink wine and smoke cigars and talk about their girlfriends."

Olasky found that opinions differed as to the likelihood that Clinton met with Gingrich and blackmailed him.  He concludes

Gingrich insists there was no blackmail, and my sense is that he's telling the truth—but knowing blackmail is possible plays on a man's mind. Based on all the interviews, it's clear that Gingrich had secret meetings with Clinton and that Democratic Congressmen Beryl Anthony and Barney Frank knew about Gingrich's affair. It seems highly likely that the White House knew about the affair and that Gingrich suspected Clinton knew. It seems likely that this concern affected his conduct in some way.

Today's intelligence report is of a very different sort but emanates from that era.    The House Ethics Committee concluded its investigation in 1997

saying in its findings that Gingrich had misled the committee in its investigations. The eight-member panel stopped short of saying Gingrich had lied, but said the then-speaker had been either "intentional" or "reckless" in his representtions of his activities during the investigation.   The ethics committee, which is divided evenly on party lines, voted 7-1 in favor of its judgment, and recommendation that the full House vote to reprimand Gingrich and require the reimbursement of $300,000 for extra time spent on the investigation as a result of Gingrich's misstatements.

The House did overwhelmingly approve the reprimand, voting 395-28 to approve the punishment.   Twenty-sic Republicans broke ranks to oppose the punishment. An official reprimand is a step below censure in severity of congressional discipline.

The committee's report long ago was made public. However, additional documents and details considered by the committee remain confidential and are probably what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was referring to when in December she told Talking Points Memo

One of these days we'll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. I now a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.

The time is not now, not when Gingrich threatens to upend the only declared GOP candidate who stands a reasonable chance of defeating President Obama. And the vehicle may not be Nancy Pelosi, given that after her statement, she would be a prime suspect.      

If Newt is nominated, there may be no need to get the information into the public domain, just as there was no need for Bill Clinton to blow the whistle on the Georgian in 1989. Gingrich knows the material exists and is accessible and if he is nominated, it might be enough to turn him from the tiger he portrays into the pussycat who would face Barack Obama.

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