Ethics panel drops 3 charges against Gingrich Alleged 'slush fund' issues still being investigated


WASHINGTON -- Trying to clean out its desk before adjournment, the House ethics committee dismissed three charges yesterday against House Speaker Newt Gingrich and one against Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the Democratic minority leader.

But four more charges against Gingrich, about an alleged "slush fund" raised for him by GOPAC, a political action committee he headed, were left in limbo.

Republicans failed to get Democrats to agree to dismiss them. Democrats failed to get the committee to open a formal inquiry into them. The committee has five Democrats and five Republicans, and its rules require six votes for any action.

Instead, the committee announced that it "is in the process of obtaining additional information concerning" the remaining charges. It offered no explanation of what that meant, and committee members would not explain it.

Last year the committee sought information without the help of counsel, requesting documents directly from Gingrich and from GOPAC. It may be doing that again. Or it could plan to seek help from the Federal Election Commission, whose investigations produced the documents cited by the Democrats who filed the pending complaint.

But another source of information could be the investigation conducted so far by the committee's own outside counsel, James M. Cole. He is investigating -GOPAC in connection with possible misuse of tax-exempt funds, and may have information relating to the remaining charges.

Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, the Democratic whip and one of those who filed the pending complaints Jan. 31, took an optimistic view of the committee's murky announcement. He detected a "crippling blow to the speakership of Newt Gingrich" and a "whole new area of investigation into GOPAC."

The charge against Gephardt that the committee dismissed yesterday was filed Feb. 2 by Rep. Jennifer Dunn, a Washington state Republican. She accused him of violating either tax laws or congressional reporting requirements in describing his interest in vacation home differently on tax and reporting forms.

The committee's letter of dismissal complained that Gephardt had made repeated revisions to his asset disclosure forms and told him to be "more diligent in the future."

Gephardt issued a statement saying he was "vindicated" by the committee's rejection of a complaint he said had been filed "for transparently partisan and retaliatory purposes."

The charges against Gingrich which were dismissed included two allegations of bribery and one of tax law violations concerning money-raising by the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation, a group that has been accused of funneling money intended for inner-city children to GOPAC.

The committee dismissed the first two as lacking merit, and said the third was moot, apparently because the panel had raised a charge of its own on the issue in Thursday's actions.

Tony Blankley, Gingrich's press secretary, issued a statement cheering the dismissals of those two charges. But it did not discuss the four charges on which the committee is seeking information, other than to describe in general terms the pending accusations as "baseless, politically motivated charges."

A subcommittee and Cole are investigating five other charges, but no details were released when the ethics committee announced those additional charges last week. Yesterday's announcement concerned four remaining charges:

One says that Gingrich received prohibited gifts by accepting a donation of as much as $250,000 from GOPAC, the political action committee he then headed, as "Newt support."

The next covers the possibility of treating the GOPAC donation as an illegal campaign contribution. In 1990, GOPAC was not registered as a committee eligible to aid candidates for federal office.

The third says that he violated federal campaign finance laws by accepting bundled contributions raised by GOPAC.

The fourth is a catchall, alleging that his conduct in these and the matters dismissed yesterday amounted to "conduct unbecoming a Member of Congress."

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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