WASHINGTON -- Without debate, the House voted yesterday to quash a Democratic move to force the ethics committee to make public its counsel's preliminary report on charges against Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, accused Republicans after the vote of a "systematic, deliberate effort to cover up this report," and told a news conference that Democrats would bring it up again every day in the House until Congress adjourned or Republicans gave in.
Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan, the Democrats' deputy leader, said he expected challengers on the campaign trail would raise the issue against Republican incumbents as soon as this weekend.
The lawyer hired by the ethics committee, James M. Cole, filed a report with the committee in mid-August.
The committee has given no indication of when it may act on his findings about charges, filed in September 1994, that Gingrich violated tax laws and misused thousands of dollars of tax-exempt foundation money for political purposes. The money was ostensibly raised to fund a college course.
The vote to table, or quash, Lewis' motion was 225-179, with 10 members, most of them members of the ethics committee, voting "present." Another 19 did not vote.
Four Republicans, including Reps. Jack Quinn of Buffalo and James T. Walsh of Syracuse, N.Y., broke with their speaker and voted against killing the Lewis motion. Nine Southern Democrats deserted Lewis and Bonior, and voted with the Republicans.
The partisan bitterness over this issue was underlined yesterday when Rep. John Linder, whose district adjoins those of both Lewis and Gingrich, offered a resolution of his own to direct the ethics committee to hire an outside counsel to investigate Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the House Democratic leader.
On Feb. 2, Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington filed an ethics charge against Gephardt saying he violated either tax laws or congressional reporting requirements in describing his interest in vacation home in different ways on tax forms and congressional asset disclosure forms.
That complaint, like two others against Gingrich, has languished for months, without action, in the deadlocked ethics committee.
Linder said he only filed his resolution in retaliation against the Lewis move against Gingrich.
When his motion was brought to a vote, before Lewis', it was tabled on a vote of 395-9. Ten voted present. Linder voted to kill his own motion.
For several days, Linder has sought to silence Democrats who discussed the Gingrich issue during the opening minutes of the session, when one-minute speeches are allowed.
He has insisted that discussion of a pending ethics issue was barred under the rules, but stopped short of forcing a vote on silencing members, especially Lewis, whose history as a civil rights leader has given him special standing in the House.
Yesterday, Republicans defended the ethics committee's handling of the case in those one-minute speeches. For example, Rep. Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin, said the report would be released "when it is complete."
In another case involving Gingrich, the ethics committee late yesterday reprimanded him for allowing a telecommunications executive, Donald Jones, to attend meetings in his office routinely. Its letter to Gingrich said this practice "demonstrates a continuing pattern of lax administration and poor judgment that has concerned the committee in the past." It told him to take steps "to guard against even the appearance of impropriety."
Pub Date: 9/20/96