WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., defending the publication of the book that has helped vault him into the realm of presidential politics, said yesterday he will seek an open hearing of the House Ethics Committee investigating the propriety of the business arrangement he struck with publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch.
"I have no problem with this being out in the open, because I think this is such a clear-cut example of absolutely professional, correct behavior," Mr. Gingrich said in a television interview.
Mr. Gingrich called the charges of impropriety, on which both he and Mr. Murdoch have been called to testify next week "phony," adding, "I think it's going to be fairly hard even for the nuttier elements of the Democratic Party to make much of this."
The ethics charges stem from Mr. Gingrich's initial decision to accept a $4.5 million advance for the publication of two books by HarperCollins, a publishing house controlled by Mr. Murdoch.
Mr. Gingrich abandoned the arrangement, agreeing instead to a $1 advance and a share of book sales, after the deal drew charges from both Democrats and Republicans that he was using his role as House speaker for personal financial gain and that he could be guilty of a conflict of interest for accepting so much money from a businessman affected by legislation before Congress.
Despite his decision to give up the advance, the House Ethics Committee decided to probe the publishing deal anyway.
Mr. Gingrich said yesterday that his book, "To Renew America," "really does outline where I think we need to go," and he confirmed that he would consider a presidential bid if its ideas are not embraced by GOP contenders with a good prospect of winning the White House.
Because of the possibility such a "vacuum" could develop, Mr. Gingrich added, "there is no reason in the short run for me to say anything about closing a door" to a presidential bid.
On "Face the Nation" yesterday, Mr. Gingrich resisted pressing for open hearings on his book deal, suggesting that there was no precedent for such proceedings by the Ethics Committee.
When reminded that a House Ethics probe into former Speaker Jim Wright's book deal -- a probe instigated by Mr. Gingrich -- had been conducted in open session, Mr. Gingrich quickly agreed, saying, "I had forgotten that. Let me talk to the Ethics Committee people."