DID SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH provide "accurate, reliable and complete information" to the House Ethics Committee probing charges that he improperly used tax-exempt funds to promote his conservative political causes? The fact that an investigating subcommittee -- divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans -- would even raise such a question and instruct its counsel to look into it further significantly elevates the "Gingrich issue" in this election.
Democratic foes of Mr. Gingrich, especially Rep. John Lewis from a Georgia district adjoining the speaker's, were quick to urge that he step aside. House minority leader Dick Armey rebuffed the suggestion, saying a group of "Democratic militants" were out for Mr. Gingrich's blood but would not get it.
Behind the partisan sniping were memories of Mr. Gingrich's leading role in forcing the 1989 resignation of Democratic Speaker Jim Wright on ethics charges. Those charges, however, did not contain any implication that Mr. Wright had misled fellow members of the House -- a serious matter, indeed.
While the two Republicans and two Democrats (including Maryland's Benjamin Cardin) on the investigating subcommittee let it be known that its probe was expanding, it rebuffed Democratic pressure to release a preliminary report by its counsel, James M. Cole.
Too much of the supposedly bipartisan committee's work has been marked by foot-dragging and politicization. Any major new developments probably will not occur until the new Congress assembles. At that time, Mr. Gingrich would have to stand for re-election as speaker, an event that could set off political fireworks at the outset of the 105th Congress.
Mr. Gingrich is trying to keep a low profile during the current campaign, a decision pleasing to his fellow Republicans, but Democrats in contrast rarely miss a chance to link him with Republican presidential challenger Bob Dole. A fair adjudication of this case must await the passing of the political season.
Pub Date: 9/28/96