House ethics committee expands Gingrich inquiry Accuracy of data he provided is questioned

September 27, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The House ethics committee raised four new charges against House Speaker Newt Gingrich yesterday, including the potentially devastating question of whether he has provided its investigation with "accurate, reliable and complete information."

The committee of five Republicans and five Democrats voted unanimously to announce the expansion of its inquiry to add the new issues. No details were released about those questions, which included two new tax law issues and the question of whether he improperly used staff and facilities of a private foundation.

One immediate effect of the additional charges is to make it certain that the Gingrich case will not be settled before Election Day. The report of its outside counsel, James Cole, will now almost certainly remain secret. House Democrats have accused the committee of stalling until after the election, but they were not complaining last night.

The investigating subcommittee's statement said its probe should be completed before this Congress goes out of existence Jan. 3. But action by the committee or the House might not come until next year.

When asked last night if the House would return after Election Day to consider the committee's work, a spokeswoman for Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, the House majority leader and No. 2 to Gingrich in the Republican hierarchy, had no comment.

Gingrich made public a letter he sent to the committee urging speed and professing confidence that "the charges against me will be found to have been groundless." But the new issues carry particular weight because they were produced not by a Democrat, but by Cole, an experienced former federal prosecutor, and by the two Republicans and two Democrats on the subcommittee.

While tax law questions are inherently complicated, the suggestion that Gingrich did not provide the subcommittee with the truth is both easily understood and singularly menacing to his career because the ethics process cannot function without the cooperation of members.

The subcommittee's statement yesterday said its work to date on the issue of whether Gingrich had violated tax laws in raising tax-exempt foundation money for a college course he taught had involved interviews with 40 witnesses and examination of documents covered by 52 subpoenas and requests for documents.

Its dry report stated that "certain facts have been discovered in the course of the Preliminary Inquiry which the Subcommittee has determined merit further inquiry."

The first of those issues was whether, "in the course of communicating with the committee, directly or through counsel," Gingrich provided "accurate, reliable and complete information" about the college course he taught, "Renewing American Civilization," and about the relationships between that course and GOPAC, a political action committee he headed, and the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a research organization run by some of his associates.

The second was whether his connection to the Progress and Freedom Foundation, "including but not limited" to the college -- course, violated the foundation's tax-exempt status, in a way the panel did not describe.

The third was whether his use of the Progress and Freedom Foundation's personnel and "facilities" violated House rules against using unofficial resources for official purposes.

The final additional question was whether his activities on behalf of the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation violated tax laws or whether the foundation had violated tax laws with his knowledge and approval.

Then the subcommittee stated "It is to understand that this action does not mean the Subcommittee has at this point made any determination that there is reason to believe Representative Gingrich committed any violation within the jurisdiction of the Committee."

But Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat who is among Gingrich's severest critics, looked at the first new charge and offered this interpretation to reporters: "That means they think he lied."

Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, the No. 2 House Democrat, demanded that Gingrich step aside until the charges were resolved. "This is a man who has hidden the truth from the ethics committee, and hidden the truth from the American people. He does not deserve to be speaker of the House."

The subcommittee that called for expansion of the charges is headed by Rep. Porter J. Goss, a Florida Republican, and also includes Rep. Steven H. Schiff, a New Mexico Republican; Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat; and Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

After they and Cole agreed on yesterday's statement, labeled an "Interim Report," a copy was given to Gingrich's attorney, Jan Baran. Then the full committee met yesterday afternoon and announced it would be issuing a statement. A short time after that, a Gingrich aide gave reporters copies of his letter.

"To date," he wrote, "I have submitted over 46,000 pages of documents and spent 11 hours in interviews with the special counsel. If further questions arise or clarifications are necessary in regards to your proceedings, I continue to stand ready to provide any additional information you request. Further, at my instruction, my associates have in the past, and will continue in the future, to cooperate fully and expeditiously in the resolution of this matter."

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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