In an apparent setback for Speaker Newt Gingrich, the House ethics committee announced Tuesday that it would not proceed with its two-year investigation into ethics complaints against him until Jan. 8 - one day after he is to stand for re-election to the leadership post.
The timing puts House Republicans in the awkward position of voting for speaker without benefit of a full airing of the ethical charges against Gingrich, and without knowing how severe a punishment the ethics committee will impose.
Last month, Gingrich admitted to violating House rules by providing inaccurate information to investigators and failing to seek proper legal advice on using tax-exempt donations for partisan purposes.
The Jan. 8 committee meeting would set in motion a series of events, including open hearings to determine what sanctions, if any, should be applied against Gingrich.
Possible punishments range from a reprimand to expulsion. The committee set a deadline of Jan. 21, the day after President Clinton’s inauguration, for the full House to conclude all floor action on the matter.
Gingrich had hoped to have time to appeal publicly to Republicans before their vote. And for that reason, House Republicans have scheduled a meeting for Monday, when he is expected to answer questions from his colleagues.
To shore up support among wavering Republicans who said they did not want to vote until they had all the facts, two Republican members of the ethics panel said Tuesday that based on their familiarity with the committee’s material, fellow members should have no qualms about retaining Gingrich as speaker.
“We know of no reason now, nor do we foresee any in the normal course of events in the future, why Newt Gingrich would be ineligible to serve as speaker,” the two, Rep. Porter Goss of Florida and Rep. Steven Schiff of New Mexico, wrote to Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the Republican whip, who is orchestrating support for the speaker.