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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gingrich Admits to Violations

WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders said Sunday that they want the House to vote on punishing House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Jan. 7, the same day lawmakers are to vote on whether to make him the first Republican reelected speaker in 68 years.


By then the House ethics committee will have recommended a sanction for Gingrich, who acknowledged Saturday that he had violated House rules after steadfastly denying for more than two years that he had done anything wrong.


House Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner said the leaders hope the ethics panel can agree on a punishment "and bring it to the floor on opening day and get it behind us.'' Boehner's appearance on ABC's "This Week'' was part of the media offensive Republican leaders launched Saturday to try to diminish the significance of the violations that Gingrich admitted. The goal appears to be to similarly minimize the punishment.


The leaders appear to have succeeded in securing Gingrich's reelection as House speaker. No Republican lawmaker has spoken out against him since his admission that he broke the rules and some whose support had been wavering are speaking out in favor of him.


One of them, Representative Peter T. King of New York, said on CBS's "Face the Nation'' on Sunday, "The Republicans will stand as one on Jan. 7 because there is no reason not to. ... The ethics committee did not come up with any reason that would justify a 'No' vote in my mind.''


Gingrich admitted to the charges detailed in the 22-page Statement of Alleged Violation -- essentially an indictment -- that the ethics panel's investigative subcommittee issued Saturday. The subcommittee concluded Gingrich should have consulted a lawyer to ensure that using tax deductible contributions to finance both a college course he taught and a televised town hall meeting would not violate federal tax law. It also said he gave the panel untrue information when it investigated those projects. The speaker said his violations were not intentional. "I accept responsibility for this and I deeply regret it,'' he said.


By admitting to the charges, Gingrich avoids a public hearing into them and instead he moves directly to the penalty phase. The full ethics committee of five Republicans and five Democrats has great leeway in determining Gingrich's punishment. Its rules allow it to suggest any sanction "determined by the committee to be appropriate.''


Republican sources said Gingrich had been seeking a reprimand, which the ethics panel's rules say is appropriate "for serious violations.'' Many Democrats are pressing for censure, which is second only to expulsion in severity and could lead to Gingrich being stripped of his speakership. Censured lawmakers are treated like felons, taken to the well of the House and admonished by the speaker.


The Republican leaders' media offensive is an example of Gingrich's own communications strategy of developing simple phrases to describe an idea or proposal and then repeating them so often that they become axiomatic. In their effort to deflect attention from Gingrich's use of charitable contributions to finance his projects, virtually every Republican who speaks of it publicly uses the same words to dismiss it -- "arcane tax law.'' As the Republican leaders sought to characterize Gingrich's violations, though, some of their descriptions did not quite match the words of the ethics committee's findings. Boehner, for instance, asserted that the ethics committee had "made it clear that Newt did not intend to mislead the committee, nor did Newt violate any tax laws.''


But the ethics committee's statement does not address Gingrich's intent when he told the panel that GOPAC, the political action committee he once headed, had no involvement with the college course. Instead, the panel simply concluded the information the speaker gave the committee "was inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable ... as Mr. Gingrich should have known. ... The ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of information submitted to the committee remained with Mr. Gingrich.'' And the investigative subcommittee reached no conclusion on whether Gingrich's use of tax-deductible, charitable contributions to finance his college course and a televised town-hall meeting in which he was a central figure violated tax law -- even though that was the issue the full ethics committee directed the panel to resolve.


At the same time, though, the panel's statement cites clear evidence that the charity-financed course had a "partisan, political role.'' Federal tax law prohibits the use of tax-exempt contributions to further a partisan, political agenda.