CNN has obtained documents from Gingrich’s first divorce that suggest the former Speaker sought a divorce from his first wife.

The documents seem to contradict Gingrich's contention that it was then-wife Jackie Battley, not him, who wanted the divorce.

A former friend backed this up, saying that Gingrich told him Battley wasn’t “young enough” or “pretty enough” to be the wife of a president.

The CNN story comes at a critical time, just a week before voters cast their ballots in the Iowa caucus, the first contest of the 2012 presidential cycle. Gingrich has been at the top of some recent polls, but has been damaged by attacks from his rivals in recent days.

Gingrich's marital history has long been seen as a possible vulnerability, particularly in Iowa, where social conservatives are a force.  

Gingrich has long battled rumors that he served divorce papers to Battley while she was recovering from cancer.

The “Answering the Attacks” section of the Gingrich campaign website says: “It was Jackie Gingrich that requested the divorce, not Newt,” and the site links to an online column written by Gingrich’s youngest daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, in which she confirms this claim.  

However, the divorce filings obtained by CNN appear to tell a different story.  

Gingrich filed for divorce on July 14, 1980, but Battley then petitioned the judge to reject her husband’s filing.  

“Defendant shows that she has adequate and ample grounds for divorce, but that she does not desire one at this time," the petition said. “Although defendant does not admit that this marriage is irretrievably broken, defendant has been hopeful that an arrangement for temporary support of defendant and the two minor daughters of the parties could be mutually agreed upon without the intervention of this court. All efforts to date have been unsuccessful.”  

Leonard Carter, who served as of Gingrich’s treasurer during his first congressional campaign and said he was a close friend of the House Speaker, told CNN it was Gingrich who initiated the divorce.  

“He [Gingrich] said, 'You know and I know that she's not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a president,' " Carter said.  

Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond did not respond to Carter’s remarks, but told CNN in an email that Gingrich filed for divorce at the request of Battley.  

Gingrich is on his third marriage and has admitted to past infidelities, but says those days are behind him and that he repented when he joined the Catholic Church.  

“In my case, I’ve said out front openly — I’ve made mistakes at times, I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness, I’ve had to seek reconciliation,” Gingrich said at a GOP presidential debate in December. “But I’m also a 68-year-old grandfather, and people have to measure now whether I’m a person that they can trust.”  

Gingrich’s GOP presidential rivals, most notably Texas Gov. Rick Perry, hammered him over his past infidelities at a December debate.  

“I’ve always been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife you’ll cheat on your business partner, so I think that issue of fidelity is important,” Perry said.