WASHINGTON -- House Democrats moved yesterday to force the ethics committee to release its counsel's report on complaints about Speaker Newt Gingrich, and to make Republicans in shaky races risk accusations of a cover-up if they vote to keep it secret.
The lawyer the committee hired to investigate the charges filed a preliminary report last month. The committee has not indicated when it plans to act on his findings on charges that Gingrich violated tax laws and misused foundation money, which was ostensibly raised for a college course, to further his political aims.
Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, filed a resolution yesterday that would compel the committee to make the report public. Under House rules, the resolution must come to the House floor no later than Monday, and a vote is expected tomorrow.
Lewis, a chief deputy whip, asserted that the ethics committee would "use every means at its disposal to stall and delay the investigation of Newt Gingrich."
The committee's chairwoman, Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, a Connecticut Republican, declined to comment.
Democrats insisted that they were acting to protect the reputation of the House and not from political motives. Yet Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, the Democrats' deputy leader, said: "I expect there are challengers all over the country who will be asking incumbents whether they plan to make this document public, and I would encourage them to do so."
Bonior said members of the House would probably have to vote on the issue repeatedly.
Gingrich had his press secretary, Tony Blankley, issue a statement saying:
"Representative Lewis' resolution reflects the ongoing and desperate actions of a small band of Democrats who have abused the ethics process by filing one baseless claim after another. With the knowledge and support of their leadership, they have pursued a singular goal since the November 1994 election. They want to win back control of the House and have made the destruction of Newt Gingrich the key to reaching this goal."
Democrats insisted that the timing was forced on them by Republican delaying actions on the complaint against Gingrich, filed Sept. 12, 1994.
"We didn't ask to delay this until the eve of the election," Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas said at the news conference where Lewis discussed his resolution. The lawyer who produced the report, James M. Cole, gave it to the committee in mid-August.
But Democrats did not shy away from the potential political hay that challengers could make out of the issue, especially against Republicans who have sought to distance themselves from Gingrich and those for whom he had raised money.
Rep. Martin Frost, the Texan who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "If Republicans were voting to cover up the report, that would be an issue."
Pub Date: 9/19/96