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Mrs. Gingrich says she's victim of 'brutal' Washington

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Marianne Gingrich, the wife of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, yesterday defended her hiring by an Israeli-based company and said she was being smeared by opponents of her husband.

In her first newspaper interview since her husband became speaker, Mrs. Gingrich, who has chosen to remain out of the limelight throughout her husband's career, said she believed that as the wife of a powerful congressman she was being unfairly targeted in the "brutal" climate of Washington.

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"I think it's a way of attacking Newt," Mrs. Gingrich said by telephone from Jerusalem, where she is on a weeklong business trip for her new employer, the Israel Export Development Co. Ltd.

"No matter what employment I found, it wouldn't have mattered. I

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would have been attacked."

She argued that congressional wives, more than congressional husbands, are always assumed to be trading on their spouse's name. "Unfortunately, it's always presumed: 'Oh, she's just a wife of a congressman. How else could she get a job?' Many spouses have their own talents and skills."

In fact, Mrs. Gingrich said, she has found her husband's high profilea liability, rather than an asset, in job hunting. She said she has looked for employment off and on for the past six years with no success, until now.

"[Employers] look at you and think, the media can be very vicious. Why should they expose themselves to that by hiring a spouse? It's a difficult environment to find a job."

She said she has found the media spotlight, which she has avoided until recently, difficult as well. "My husband is a politician," she said. "He's used to that environment. I'm not."

Asked whether, being a private person, she found it difficult to be married to such a public man, she said, with a laugh: "It is. I can't believe I did it."

Mrs. Gingrich was hired in September to be IEDC's vice president for business development. The Jerusalem-based company is owned by a group of American businessmen, who are recruiting businesses for, and seeking Israeli-government approval of, a free-trade zone in Israel.

She is being paid $2,500 a month, plus what she called a "small percentage" of any business she recruits for the zone.

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Mrs. Gingrich said her position creates no conflict of interest for her husband because she is not lobbying the U.S. or Israeli governments. She dismissed suggestions that she was valuable the company because of her husband's powerful position.

"I don't think having the last name of Gingrich is much help in this process," she said. "When I'm talking to businesses, they aren't going to locate in the zone unless it's profitable. Either it works for them or it doesn't."

Questions have been raised about the propriety of her job, given that the Israeli government is heavily reliant on the U.S. foreign aid, and Mr. Gingrich is in a position to affect U.S. policy toward Israel.

Mrs. Gingrich insisted, however, that her hiring did not give her new employer an edge in winning Israeli government approval to manage the free-trade zone, which allows businesses to operate free of most taxes and government bureaucracy.

"I don't know of any competition," she said.

"We're in line to get it if everything goes well."

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The company chairman, however, has said he anticipates some competition down the road.

To be sure, Mrs. Gingrich's involvement with IEDC has not gone unnoticed by top Israeli leaders. Upon her arrival in Jerusalem yesterday, she found invitations to meet with both Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party. But she said in the interview that she had not decided whether there was time in her schedule.

The purpose of her trip, she said, was to visit the site of the business park, to be located in the commercial center of Israel, near Beersheba, and surrounding communities. She also hopes to do some sightseeing.

Mrs. Gingrich said she learned about IEDC in 1993 from former Rep. Vin Weber, a Gingrich ally who was then a consultant to the company.

She explained that, last summer, before she was employed by the group, IEDC officials asked her to travel to Israel at their expense around the time the Israeli Parliament was to pass legislation establishing the zone.

But the House Ethics Committee would not allow her to go, she said, "since it could be misconstrued as gift." So IEDC's chairman, David Yerushalmi, told her, "Maybe we can work something out where you work for us," she recalled.

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Mrs. Gingrich, who worked at a county planning commission in the mid- to late 1970s in her native eastern Ohio, said she believes she was hired because of her background in planning, because she had studied business at Georgia State College, where she received a bachelor's degree, and because she believes in free trade.

She acknowledged that she has no experience in trade development but added: "I'm not looking at how you import and export products. That's not my job. I'm talking to businesses about ways they can take advantage of opportunities by locating in Israel."


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