Dems switch fire to Gingrich

Democrats who have largely ignored the GOP field of presidential candidates aside from Mitt Romney have turned their fire on Newt Gingrich, the new front-runner for the Republican nomination. 

Vice President Biden took a shot at Gingrich on Sunday, telling Turkey’s prime minister he didn’t want to “sound like Newt Gingrich” by inflating his own self-importance. President Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod went after the former Speaker on Monday, calling him “the godfather of gridlock.”

But it was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) threat to trumpet potentially damning information derived from an ethics investigation into the former House Speaker’s conduct in the 1990s that provoked a response from Gingrich. 

Pelosi, who served on the House ethics panel that sanctioned Gingrich in 1997 for violating tax law and lying to investigators, quipped in an interview that she would reveal damaging material about the rising presidential contender “when the time is right.”

“One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich,” Pelosi said in an interview Friday with Talking Points Memo. “I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”

Gingrich on Monday said revealing any non-public information from that probe would both violate House rules and backfire on the Democrats fighting for Obama’s reelection.

 “I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift,” he said following a Manhattan meeting with Donald Trump.

Gingrich, who has long considered the ethics probe a political witch hunt, said any exposure of non-public information would be further evidence that the investigation was “tainted.” He accused Pelosi of harboring a willingness “to totally abuse the ethics process.”

“It tells you how capriciously political that committee was,” Gingrich said.

He also called for the House to condemn Pelosi if she were to reveal anything confidential from the ethics probe.

A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined to comment on “current rules in the context of allegations concerning past conduct, or hypothetical future conduct governed by past rules.”

But Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government-watchdog group, said Pelosi would likely find herself in hot water if she released non-public information gleaned from the investigation. 

“It would be an ethics violation for any member of Congress to release information they received on the Ethics Committee,” Sloan said. “Basically, if it didn’t come out then, it can’t come out now.

“If she has things that she learned in other places, other ways, that’d be a different matter,” Sloan added.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said Monday that the minority leader was never suggesting she would release information not already made public.

“Leader Pelosi was clearly referring to the extensive amount of information that is in the public record, including the comprehensive committee report, with which the public may not be fully aware,” Hammill said in an email.

The episode arrives as Gingrich has leapt to the top of the GOP primary field, surpassing Romney in several new polls just months after many of Gingrich’s staffers had quit in frustration and his campaign seemed doomed.

As evidenced by the comments of Biden and Axelrod, Gingrich’s ascension hasn’t been lost on the White House, which, after focusing its fire almost exclusively on Romney, is beginning to set its sights on the “Contract With America” architect. 

Republicans in Congress have been slow to rally around Gingrich’s rise to front-runner status in the polls, with former GOP colleague Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) stating publicly over the weekend that he is not “inclined to be a supporter” of Gingrich.

Democrats, meanwhile, have suggested Obama would have a much easier time defeating Gingrich than Romney. 

“He would be the best thing to happen to Democrats since Barry Goldwater,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said last week. Goldwater is credited with reviving Republican conservatism in the 1960s, but lost in a landslide presidential election to Democrat Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Pelosi told Talking Points Memo that most Democrats agree with Frank’s assessment. 

“I like Barney Frank’s quote the best, where he said, ‘I never thought I’d live such a good life that I would see Newt Gingrich be the nominee of the Republican Party,’ ” she said.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who also served in Congress with Gingrich, charged Gingrich on Monday with lacking the temperament to be president.

“He tends to fly off the handle,” Clyburn told MSNBC. “He will say almost anything in order to get a charge. I’m sure that he’s not serious when he says a lot of these things.”

The working relationship between Gingrich and Pelosi has been a hot-and-cold affair. The two worked together in the House from 1987 to 1999, with Pelosi joining a majority of the ethics committee members who found that Gingrich’s campaign finance violations in the 1990s represented an “intentional or … reckless” disregard of House rules.

Gingrich agreed to a $300,000 fine and admitted that he submitted inaccurate statements to the committee, but maintained Monday that the majority of the charges “were repudiated as false.”

In 2008, Gingrich filmed an ad with then-Speaker Pelosi to urge action on climate change, which haunted him early in his presidential bid this year. In an effort to woo conservative supporters in the primary race, Gingrich last month called the ad “probably the dumbest single thing I’ve done in recent years.”