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12.30.11

Gingrich Claims of Veracity in Divorces Don’t Hold Up

For years, Newt Gingrich has defended the Clinton impeachment hearings by saying that they were about perjury, and that he always told the truth when deposed in his own divorce proceedings. But no evidence exists that he ever testified. Plus, the charade continues: Wayne Barrett follows up on Gingrich's deposition lies.

A review of Newt Gingrich’s divorce records contradicts his public contention that it was his own divorce experience with depositions that forced him to push for Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. Insisting in a 2000 New York Times interview that he had been “through two tough divorce depositions in my life and I told the truth both times,” Gingrich has long justified his votes in favor of all four of the impeachment counts against Clinton on the basis of the president’s alleged perjury. But a Daily Beast probe of both divorces can find no evidence that he was ever deposed.

Gingrich’s lawyers, and an attorney for his current wife, Callista, successfully fought to avoid disclosure and depositions in the most recent divorce, in 1999, and he repeatedly postponed scheduled depositions in the first case, in 1980.

Alan Lee, the Carroll County clerk of the court, who released the 1980–81 records of Gingrich’s Georgia divorce from Jackie Battley last week, told The Daily Beast: “The fact that there was no deposition in the papers indicates to me that it never occurred.” Douglas Vassy, the attorney for Battley who was supposed to depose Gingrich, says, “There was no deposition.”

John Mayoue, the lawyer for Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne Gingrich, told us: “Simply put, he was never deposed.” Brenda Ethridge, the judicial administrator tech officer for Cobb County Court in Georgia, did a search of the papers in the 1999 divorce from Marianne and said: “I only see notices for a deposition. But I do not see a deposition.” Superior Court Judge Dorothy Robinson, who oversaw the second case, indicated that if it wasn’t on the docket, it didn’t happen: “I don’t recall. I have hundreds of cases. I don’t remember if a deposition was given. If it was, it would be in the record.” Another source knowledgeable about the second divorce denied there was a Gingrich deposition: “He never did one. No one did. We never got depositions. It was a load of crap.”

R. C. Hammond, the Gingrich campaign spokesman, initially responded to a Daily Beast email raising questions about whether Gingrich was deposed in the divorce cases, offering to talk by phone. But when we called the number he left two days ago, he never returned that or subsequent messages and emails. Randy Evans, Gingrich’s longtime personal attorney, conceded: “There was never a deposition, but there were filings where he was under oath.” Referring to these written responses prepared by attorneys, Evans said that Gingrich isn’t a lawyer, and “I suspect that anytime he’s under oath, he treats it as a deposition.”

“I guess he’s both lying and telling the truth,” said Evans, a generous assessment.

Pressed by the Times’s James Traub during an extended 2000 interview about whether Gingrich had “sacrificed the right to moral grandstanding” because of his “illicit affair” during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, the recently retired and remarried ex-speaker distinguished himself from Clinton by declaring: “I wasn’t lying under oath.” He said he “told the truth” in these “tough divorce depositions” because “you swear to tell the truth.” Referring to Clinton, he added: “A leader about whom you never know anything in terms of the truth is a very serious problem in a free society.”

When Gingrich was preparing for a possible 2008 presidential run in March 2007, he engaged in a prolonged telephone interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, eventually obtaining evangelical clearance for his past marital misdeeds. Asked if he was having an affair “at the same time as Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky,” Gingrich conceded he was but insisted that these simultaneous “escapades,” as Dobson called them, were “not related to what happened,” making the same point about the difference being perjury, which he called “the very heart of our legal system.” Noting that perjury is “very often punished very intently by the courts,” Gingrich said he was “aware of this because of the very painful experience” Dobson had raised, namely a divorce. “I had been through depositions,” he explained.

"I guess he’s both lying and telling the truth," said Randy Evans, Gingrich’s personal attorney.

Most recently, during an interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace this March, Gingrich argued again that the issue wasn’t Clinton’s “personal behavior,” but perjury. “I knew this in particular going through a divorce,” he told Wallace. “I had been in depositions. I had been in situations where you had to swear to tell the truth.” Calling Clinton a “misogynist” at a closed Republican caucus session shortly before the impeachment and rebuking Republican members who wanted to tone down the graphic sexual charges against the president, Gingrich pushed for impeachment in December 1998, less than five months before he called Marianne Gingrich on Mother’s Day, acknowledged he was having an affair, and asked for a divorce.

The detailed record of the first divorce, unearthed recently by Georgia blogger Craig Hardegree and CNN, indicates that Gingrich’s deposition was rescheduled from Oct. 20, 1980, to Nov. 10, and then reset again for Jan. 14, 1981. The parties reached an agreement on the divorce on Jan. 31, two weeks after the scheduled deposition. Vassy said: “The deposition was noticed to take place at my office. I don’t remember ever taking his deposition. I don’t remember anything like that happening at my office. I don’t recall taking or being involved in it.” Citing the case file as well as his own recollections, Vassy concluded: “There was no deposition.”

Unlike the Battley-Gingrich case, the focus of the second divorce was to depose Gingrich’s lover, Callista Bisek, who subsequently became his third wife. That was avoided when Gingrich and Marianne reached agreement on Dec. 16, 1999, after a court-ordered mediation that lasted 12 hours. One of the arguments offered to evade Callista’s deposition was a Fifth Amendment claim against self-incrimination, with her lawyers asserting that adultery was a crime.

A few weeks before the settlement, Bisek lost a related court case in the District of Columbia. A Nov. 23 decision would have forced her to turn over detailed records and be deposed within 30 days by Marianne’s attorney, John Mayoue. Mayoue told the Associated Press at the time of the D.C. decision: “The documents, including notes between Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Bisek, might be used to test Gingrich’s credibility by comparing his actions with his public comments about both his wife and President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky.” Mayoue said the D.C. judge had granted his client “virtually every document and every tangible item she’s been asking for since September 10.” As the Atlanta Constitution later reported, “the case was settled before” that deposition happened.

Putting off Mayoue's scheduled deposition of Callista, Gingrich's attorneys instead conducted a “deposition” of her without anyone representing Marianne Gingrich present, during which she admitted to having a six-year affair with the speaker. But the D.C. and Georgia courts ordered a real deposition of Callista. One of the sources involved in the case who asked not to be identified said that “Newt’s attorney went to Washington and came out announcing there was a deposition,” but Marianne’s attorney “never got to ask a question.” There was, according to this source, no recording or transcription of even this purported Callista deposition.

As for the sworn written submissions cited by Gingrich attorney Randy Evans, the ex-speaker even failed to comply with most of those interrogatory and document demands supported by both courts over a period of several months. Mayoue once filed papers charging that Gingrich had answered only two of 32 sets of questions, and a Gingrich attorney boasted about answering only 58 of 300 questions, contending that they could have legally replied to “none.” Judge Robinson gave Gingrich until Dec. 6, 1999, to “fully and completely” answer the 32 sets of questions, and news accounts indicate that nothing arrived by that deadline. A Gingrich attorney claimed the answers were “in the mail,” but settlement discussions began shortly thereafter. A source familiar with the details of the case said that “despite motions to compel Gingrich to answer these questions” sustained by the courts, he never answered many of them.

What makes Gingrich’s invocation of his own history for truthfulness even more ironic is that he was fined $300,000 by a 395-to-28 vote of the House in 1997 for a series of ethics violations, led by 13 false statements he made in two letters to the subcommittee investigating him. He blamed the “inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable” answers that he admitted he made to the subcommittee on “exhaustion,” and later on one of his attorneys. “The goal of the letters was to have the complaint dismissed,” the bipartisan subcommittee's findings read, before the real investigation got underway. Only Gingrich “had personal knowledge” of the falsity of the answers, the subcommittee also reported, with the special counsel to the subcommittee declaring, to borrow a future phrase of Gingrich’s, it “went to the heart of the issues” placed before the ethics investigators. “Over a number of years and in a number of situations,” the counsel concluded, “Mr. Gingrich showed a disregard and a lack of respect for the standard of conduct that applied to his activities.”

In fact, while Gingrich voted in favor of all four articles of impeachment, there were 126 Republican votes in the House against them cumulatively, enough to defeat two of the counts, including the one Gingrich still repeatedly invokes, the perjury Clinton was alleged to have committed in the Paula Jones civil suit. Twenty-eight Republicans voted against that article, and 81 voted against the fourth charge, which involved alleged false submissions Clinton made to the House, precisely what Gingrich had already conceded he’d done himself. The House defeated that charge 285 to 148, leaving Gingrich, who’d already announced his retirement from the House, in a distinct minority, unchastened by his own similar conduct.

During the House impeachment debate, Nancy Pelosi “looked straight at Gingrich, who was presiding over the debate, and reminded him that in early 1997 he had admitted lying under oath to the House Ethics Committee and had not been deposed,” according to historian Steven Gillon in The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and the Rivalry That Defined a Generation. We all agree that lying is wrong, said Pelosi, “but why the double standard?” Gingrich was such a carbon copy of Clinton that one woman who claims to have had a 1977 affair with him, Anne Manning, told Vanity Fair well before the Lewinsky explosion: “We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, I never slept with her.”

Hillary Clinton reported in her 2003 memoir, Living History, that Gingrich actually whispered to her that “these accusations against your husband are ludicrous” during a state dinner in honor of Tony Blair on Feb. 5, 1998. On the heels of the most tumultuous month in the Lewinsky scandal, Gingrich told the first lady, who was seated next to him at the dinner: “I think it’s terribly unfair the way some people are trying to make something out of it. Even if it were true, it’s meaningless. It’s not going anywhere.”

“He completely changed his tune when he led the Republican charge for Bill’s impeachment,” wrote Hillary. Months after this conversation, “when his own marital infidelities were exposed,” Hillary concluded, “I better understood why Gingrich may have wanted to dismiss the issue.”

Research assistance was provided by Emily Atkin, Matthew DeLuca, and Kyle Roerink.