Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethics Probe of Gingrich Focuses on Books, Gifts Unless New Details Surface, Few Expect Much Impact on Speaker

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethics Probe of Gingrich Focuses on Books, Gifts Unless New Details Surface, Few Expect Much Impact on Speaker

Article excerpt

THE House Ethics Committee is set to begin considering Feb. 15 a number of complaints against House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the first Republican to hold that office in 40 years, over a controversial two-book deal and other financial dealings.

The probe marks the first time since 1989 that a House Speaker has been brought under investigation by the panel, now formally known as the Standards of Official Conduct Committee. Ironically, the earlier proceedings were largely the result of a campaign waged by Mr. Gingrich against then-Speaker Jim Wright (D) of Texas, also over a book deal.

Unless significant new details come to light, few analysts expect the ethics probe to cause significant long-term damage to the Speaker, though it could fray the edges of his image in the near-term. His public-approval ratings have been low.

"The Democrats, as the opposition, should keep the heat on," says Stephen Hess, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution in Washington. But the allegations "tend to be in the sour-grapes category."

The complaints against Mr. Gingrich (R) of Georgia continue to cause partisan sparring on the floor of the House, and a growing number of public advocacy groups have joined the chorus from the outside.

Gingrich denies any wrongdoing and characterizes the complaints against him as nothing more than a witch hunt by Democrats embittered over losing the House of Representatives in last November's midterm elections.

"I've been told by a member of the House that there are like 30 or 40 ethics charges that are going to come out like Chinese water torture," the Speaker told reporters at a news conference last week. "You know, if I go to an {Atlanta} Braves game, it's probably a sign of my favoritism for Ted Turner."

In a compromise with minority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri, Gingrich agreed to hold over the remaining membership of the Ethics Committee from the previous Congress to hear the complaints against him, although the panel will now be chaired by Republican Nancy Johnson of Connecticut. The 10 seats are equally divided between the parties.

The panel may hear as many as three complaints against Gingrich:

*First, former Rep. Ben Jones (D) of Georgia, Gingrich's reelection opponent, charged prior to the November elections that Gingrich violated House rules and tax laws by using his congressional staff, his political action committee GOPAC, and his affiliate, the tax-exempt Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), to support a college course he teaches. …

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