The chairman of the House Ethics Committee said Friday she is pressing for an early and public decision on the fate of Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., that would wind up his case before Congress reconvenes Jan. 7 and the House elects its speaker.
After a telephone conference call with members of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Chairman Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., said in an interview she hoped to have final agreement by Monday on a timetable and procedure for bringing the case to a conclusion.
The reported timetable would allow Gingrich to turn back demands from Democrats that he stand aside and not seek re-election until the ethics panel has recommended an appropriate punishment for the violations of House rules he admitted a week ago. But it would also entail a public airing of the charges against him and conceivably could bring Gingrich before the press and cameras to defend the actions that he conceded in a written statement “did not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.”
Meanwhile, Democrats have been circulating documents that raise new questions about Gingrich’s defense of his actions and a survey of House Republicans suggested some are not ready to support Gingrich’s reelection as speaker before the ethics committee completes its work.
In a telephone interview from Connecticut, Johnson said, “My goal has been and is to wrap this up as promptly as possible and finish our business on our watch.” The committee formally expires with the end of the 104th Congress on Jan. 6 and several of the members, including Johnson, have indicated they will not serve on the committee in the 105th Congress.
Johnson would not go beyond that, but other committee sources said the canvass of the 10-member panel, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, found there was “not a lot of disagreement” that the deliberations should be public.
The feeling is, one informed source said, that “the public needs to know and to hear directly” from the committee’s counsel, committee members and, if he wishes, from Gingrich himself.
The full Ethics Committee has the responsibility now of recommending to the House what degree of discipline Gingrich should receive, which could range from reprimand to expulsion.
MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition