December 14, 1996 in Nation/World

Ethics Panel Near End Of Gingrich Audit Members Of The Group Are Under Heavy Pressure To Finish Before The End Of The Year, But It Is Not Clear If That Will Occur

Los Angeles Times

A House ethics panel Friday wrapped up five consecutive days of closed-door meetings amid indications it is near completion of its highstakes investigation of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Members of the investigative subcommittee refused to comment on their deliberations, but a source close to one member said it appeared the panel was concluding its work and would soon notify the speaker of its findings.

The panel is under heavy pressure to finish before the end of the year because several lawmakers, including some Republicans, want it to report its findings before members vote Jan. 7 on whether to re-elect the Georgia Republican as speaker.

However, it is not clear that the matter will be resolved by then. If the subcommittee files formal charges against Gingrich, he has 30 days to respond.

Rep. Steven Schiff, R-N.M., a member of the investigative subcommittee, told reporters after Friday’s meeting, “As representatives we understand the importance of Jan. 7, but that doesn’t mean we can do everything under our rules to fit Jan. 7.”

The panel has been reviewing allegations that Gingrich used tax-exempt contributions improperly to finance a college course he taught in 1993-95.

The panel, which hired former federal prosecutor James Cole as special counsel to conduct the inquiry, also is investigating whether Gingrich provided “accurate, reliable and complete information” about the course and its relationship to GOPAC, a political action committee Gingrich headed for years. The course was financed by two tax-exempt foundations, but GOPAC staff members were involved in developing and raising money for the course.

Critics charge that the course was part of Gingrich’s partisan effort to help the GOP win control of the House, and therefore should not be financed by a tax-exempt foundation. Federal tax law prohibits tax-exempt foundations from engaging in any form of partisan activity.

Gingrich has argued that the course was purely educational and denies wrongdoing. He has denounced the investigation as a politically motivated crusade by Democrats out to undermine his leadership.

The investigation is being handled by a four-member subcommittee of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. If that panel finds there is “reason to believe” that House rules have been violated, they can issue formal charges known as a “statement of alleged violation.”

Sources close to the subcommittee said the panel would not release its findings until after Gingrich had a chance to respond, although Gingrich himself would be free to discuss the results.

If the panel, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, deadlocked, the charges would be dismissed and the two sides would report to the full committee and the House.

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