THROUGHOUT the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, there was always one puzzle: why was Newt Gingrich, the tousle-haired, pugilistic champion of the American right and Speaker of the House, keeping such a distance from the allegations of adultery and sexual misbehaviour against the President?
The answer is now only too clear, writes Andrew Marshall. Mr Gingrich, already known to be no champion of family values in his own life, was carrying on with someone else - a 33-year-old Congressional aide.
It began six years ago, when she was not that much older than Monica Lewinsky, she has admitted. Now, a torrent of sensitive and salacious sexual detail on Mr Gingrich is set to come spilling out, embarrassing the man who once thought that he, too, could be President. Mr Gingrich is facing retribution, and his party may join the firing squad.
His bitter divorce proceedings against Marianne, his second wife, are entertaining the nation much as Mr Clinton's saga of sexual incontinence did a year ago. Last week a judge ruled that Mr Gingrich must answer all the questions put to him by Marianne, which promises yet further sleaze for those who believe that politicians are constitutionally incapable of responsible behaviour.
Mr Gingrich filed for divorce in July, claiming that the marriage was "irrevocably broken". He has admitted his relationship with Callista Bisek, but denies that it is an affair. But she told the court in a deposition that though the relationship began in November 1993, when Mr Gingrich and his wife were legally separated, it continued after they were reconciled, and after Mr Gingrich was appointed to the august position of Speaker, which put him in line of succession to the presidency.
Ms Bisek, a tall blonde whose taste for sensible suits and pearls has been likened to Hillary Clinton's, works as an aide to the House Agriculture Committee and was reported as long ago as 1995 to be Mr Gingrich's "frequent breakfast companion".
According to her lawyers, he gave her a set of Callaway golf clubs and a pearl ring - "not even a really nice ring", one lawyer said, trying to erase the idea of an affair. "I don't think anybody's proud of the existence of the relationship," he said. "But it's a little different where you had a legal separation and something developed between two people."
Mr Gingrich told his wife he was seeing someone else last May, and that he wanted a divorce, but not that the affair …