Originally created 12/25/96

Keep Newt speaker

The only development more surprising than the admission by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., that he provided "incomplete, inaccurate and unreliable" information to the House ethics panel's investigative subcommittee was the swiftness with which the GOP House leadership rallied around him.

It must have been particularly gratifying for the speaker when Reps. Chris Shays, R-Conn., and Peter King, R-N.Y., stood up for him. They were his harshest GOP critics leading up to the admission. Now they both support him.

"The ethics committee did not come up with any reason that would justify a `no' vote in my mind," King said on "Face the Nation" regarding Gingrich's bid to be re-elected speaker Jan. 7.

Unless Democrats can shake Republicans like King and Shays loose, then Gingrich's hold on to his leadership post is assured. Even so, the speaker has one more hurdle.

The House will almost certainly impose whatever sanctions the bipartisan ethics panel recommends - and right now it appears that will be a reprimand, not a censure. The former will be an embarrassment, but allows the Georgian to continue as speaker; the latter would not.

The crux of the issue centers on whether Gingrich intended to mislead when he signed his name to an inaccurate statement prepared by his attorney. It said Gingrich's political action committee was not involved in a college course he taught. This contradicted an earlier Gingrich statement that his PAC money was, in fact, used to set up the course.

If the former professor was purposefully lying, censure would be deserved. But it's hard to make the case he's lying when he earlier told the truth. This gives substance to the speaker's claim that he simply didn't pay attention to the lawyer's document submitted in his name.

That's not criminal - which cannot be said about many of the scandals swirling around the White House. Unless there are new surprises, we see no reason why Republicans shouldn't retain a chastened Newt Gingrich as speaker.


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