Gingrich May Get Reprimand, Fine Stiff Penalty for Violations Is Suggested

Article excerpt

The ethics committee must vote on the suggested $3000,000 fine and formal punishment.

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The outside counsel hired to investigate ethics charges against House Speaker Newt Gingrich recommended Friday that the GOP leader be formally reprimanded by the House and penalized an unprecedented $300,000. There has never been a House speaker who has been reprimanded by the House. The highest fine ever paid by a member of Congress as a result of ethics violations was $124,000 by former Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., in 1990. The eight-member ethics committee, composed equally of Republicans and Democrats, was expected to vote late Friday to adopt counsel James Cole's recommendation for punishment. A vote by the House on a punishment is set for Tuesday. Rep. Dana Rohrabacker of California and several other GOP lawmakers - with the tacit backing of House Republican leaders - are organizing an effort to vote down a reprimand in favor of a milder "letter of reproval." A reprimand would not require Gingrich to step aside as speaker, unlike the more severe penalty of "censure." Cole said the seriousness of Gingrich's actions in the case merited a punishment "somewhere between reprimand and censure," and a decision was made in the committee to recommend a reprimand and a fine. Democratic lawmakers and aides said Cole had recommended to the commi ttee earlier this week that the evidence be referred to the Justice Department for investigation of possible criminal violations but that the recommendation was dropped under pressure from GOP committee members. Instead, the 213-page report by Cole recommends that the documents in the case be made available to the IRS. The IRS already is investigating. Rep. Steve Schiff, R-N.M., a member of the committee, denied there had ever been a recommendation for a referral to the Justice Department. Coming in the midst of one of the most bitterly partisan atmospheres lawmakers said they can remember, Cole's conclusions carry special weight because he is viewed as a neutral arbiter. "Over a number of years and in a number of situations, Mr. Gingrich showed a disregard and a lack of respect for the standards of conduct that applied to his activities," Cole said. Cole told the House ethics committee at a public hearing that Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, took part in a scheme to finance partisan polit ical activities aimed at furthering his political ambitions and electing a Republican majority to Congress. …