December 28, 1996 in Nation/World

Democrats Call For Gingrich To Step Down

From Wire Reports

Democrats stepped up demands Friday that House Speaker Newt Gingrich step aside, citing reports that lawyers warned him six years ago about not using tax-exempt projects for political purposes.

“We ought to have an ethical speaker and it shouldn’t be Newt Gingrich,” Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, told reporters on a conference call. Rep. Barbara Kennelly, D-Conn., who also convened a conference call, said House Republicans should designate an “interim speaker” until Gingrich’s ethical problems are resolved.

Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley said two memos mentioned by Frost and Kennelly do not apply to the college course that was the subject of an adverse finding last week by the House ethics committee.

“This latest attempt by the Democrats and others to misrepresent these documents and use the media for their political purposes is more of the same in their far-fetched strategy to defeat Newt for speaker,” Blankley said.

The new House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republicans, will vote for speaker Jan. 7. Most Democrats, and at least half a dozen Republicans, want the Ethics Committee to decide Gingrich’s punishment before then.

The Ethics Committee is looking into a variety of Democratic allegations against Gingrich, including his use of a political action committee called GOPAC.

Another charge dealt with “Renewing American Civilization,” a course Gingrich taught at Kennesaw State College in 1993, and at Reinhardt College in 1994 and 1995. Both colleges are in Georgia.

One of Gingrich’s themes was the desire to replace the “welfare state” with an “opportunity society.” Gingrich also sought financial contributions for the course, telling potential donors they could claim tax deducations.

The Ethics Committee called the course a political endeavor, not eligible for tax deductions. It found that Gingrich failed to ensure that the course did not violate federal tax laws, and that the Georgia Repubican provided misleading information about the fact that GOPAC helped finance the course.

Gingrich acknowledged the committee’s findings, but said they resulted from unintentional mistakes. As part of his agreement with the Ethics Committee, Gingrich said he erred in not seeking legal advice on the college course and other endeavors.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday documents it obtained from GOPAC indicated that two attorneys warned Gingrich about the use of tax-exempt organizations as early as 1990. The newspaper also obtained documents from Kennesaw State College indicating that Gingrich continued to consult with one of those lawyers.

“He had advice six years ago that he shouldn’t be doing this and for whatever reason he chose to ignore that advice,” said Frost, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly, D-Conn., vice chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus, said the memos undermine Gingrich’s statements that he was unaware the course might present tax-compliance problems.

“Every taxpayer in America knows that the IRS does not take a forgive-and-forget attitude to errors and there should be no special exemption for lawmakers,” Kennelly said.

Blankley, Gingrich’s spokesman, said the Democrats are distorting the import of the two legal memos cited by the Atlanta newspaper. He said they referred only to a pair of earlier Gingrich projects; he used a different lawyer to help set up the college course.

“The (ethics) committee was aware of this,” Blankley said. “It found, however, that while Newt sought the advice of counsel, he did not seek the advice of lawyers with the necessary expertise at the appropriate time. He has concurred with that judgement.”

The Ethics Committee could decide to simply reprimand Gingrich, which would permit him to continue to speaker, or opt for a harsher sanction that would force him to step aside.

The college course aside, the Ethics Committee continues to look into charges that Gingrich received improper gifts and contributions from GOPAC.

Gingrich, a key organizer of the Republican congressional triumphs in 1994, remains favored to regain the speakership after the Jan. 7 vote. Still, there are reports that some Republicans are concerned about whether the ethics findings will gut Gingrich’s effectiveness.

At least eight Republican House members said they won’t commit their votes until they get more information about Gingrich’s confession to rules violations. Some said they want a Ethics Committee recommendation on punishment before the speaker’s vote.

Among the eight, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said his vote remains uncertain and pointed out that there can’t be a double-standard between the Gingrich case and that of former Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat. Wright, whose case was initiated by a complaint from Gingrich, quit his post in 1989 after the Ethics Committee charged him with 69 counts of rules violations.

“In essence, he (Gingrich) made his career on an ethics charge,” Sanford said. He has to be held to the same standard. You can’t have two standards - one for Wright and another for Newt.”

MEMO: Changed from the Idaho edition

Changed from the Idaho edition

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