Gingrich surrogate says former Speaker did little to influence for Freddie Mac

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Mitt Romney's campaign team has been turning up the pressure on Gingrich over his ties to the company, hoping in essence to replicate the electoral success the former Speaker found in demanding Romney's tax returns while campaigning in South Carolina.

"To say he wasn't a lobbyist is incredible hairsplitting,"said Romney supporter and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on a conference call with reporters this morning.

"The notion that he was paid $1.7 million as a historian is just BS," Pawlenty added. "What remains a mystery is what he did for $1.7 million."

But Watts maintains that had Gingrich been truly trying to lobby on behalf of the mortgage giant, he would have reached out to his old colleague working closely to influence the agency's funding and policy goals.

"I thought it was ironic that in the six years I was chairman of FM Policy Focus, we had Republican and Democratic consultants, we talked to Republican and Democratic members of Congress, we talked to Wall Street folks, and the first time I heard his name was 45 days ago," Watts said.

"Newt and I are pretty good friends, and we surely don't agree on everything, but we've remained friends … and I just never heard his name associated with that, and I thought that was interesting," Watts added.

The former congressman went on to argue that he saw nothing untoward in Gingrich's decision to take consulting money from Freddie, and said Romney was ill-qualified to criticize the former Speaker on the practice when he accepted campaign contributions from the corporation.

"If it's influence-peddling to be a consultant, I guess you could draw the same conclusion and say why wouldn't campaign contributions be influence-peddling? And I think campaign contributions are protected as free speech, as American as apple pie and Chevrolet," Watts said.

"If someone wants to split hairs over consulting and lobbying, as the Romney folks would want to do, any person who ever has been associated with Fannie or Freddie or taken money from Fannie or Freddie — I mean, is that legal bribery?" Watts added.

Watts said criticism by Romney over Newt's consulting was as anti-capitalist an attack as Gingrich's questioning of Bain Capital, which the former governor complained was running contrary to conservative principles.

"Beating up the Speaker for consulting or beating up Mitt Romney for consulting in the private sector is like saying, 'Let's beat up Michael Jordan for being a great basketball player,' " Watts said. "You want someone who has been there, done that, who can give you the history on a circumstance or give you the history of buying a company."

Watts also chided Romney for having staff wipe computers with records concerning the development of the Massachusetts healthcare law. 

"It takes a little bit of moxie to beat the Speaker up over transparency or what he did or what he didn't do, when we all know he erased all his computers with records of his governorship," Watts said. "I don't know what was there or what wasn't there."