Why Nancy Pelosi Is Attacking Newt Gingrich on Ethics

Nancy Pelosi should consider her own ethics record before slamming Gingrich's.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants the world to believe she knows something about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that could prove damaging to his presidential ambitions.

"One of these days we'll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich," Pelosi told 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."

It is highly unlikely that she would have anything new to say. Much if not all of the information is already public record. And, as the GOP frontrunner's campaign was quick to remind people Monday,

In 1999, after a 3 ½ year investigation, the Internal Revenue Service (under President Bill Clinton, nonetheless) concluded that Gingrich did not violate any tax laws, leading renowned CNN Investigative Reporter Brooks Jackson to remark on air "it turns out [Gingrich] was right and those who accused him of tax fraud were wrong."

[Read the U.S. News debate on whether Newt Gingrich can beat Barack Obama.]

What Pelosi is doing is a classic case of misdirection that began after it was revealed on 60 Minutes that she has some things of her own to answer for. As the San Francisco Examiner editorialized recently,

Democrat Nancy Pelosi and her husband cashed in big time by getting special access to an initial public offering of Visa stock even as the House under her leadership refused to move important credit card industry reforms.

The mere idea that Pelosi and others—Democrats and Republicans alike—may have realized financial gains through what in the private sector is called "insider trading" has set off a firestorm of complaints among the American electorate that threatens to take Congress's approval rating down to zero.

[Read Brad Bannon on why Americans think politics is corrupt.]

One wonders what she might have to say that would be new. But, by attacking Gingrich by disclosing supposedly heretofore secret information, Pelosi would certainly change the subject, at least for a day or two. Never mind that, as his campaign said in a release,

Politically motivated ethics charges were filed against Newt when he was Speaker of the House regarding the use of tax exempt funds for a college course he taught titled 'Renewing American Civilization.'  83 of the 84 were found to be without merit...the remaining charge had to do with contradictory documents prepared by Newt's lawyer supplied during the course of the investigation. Newt took responsibility for the error and agreed to reimburse the committee the cost of the investigation into that discrepancy. The agreement specifically noted the payment was not a fine.

What Pelosi suggests she may do may also be an abuse of the congressional ethics process; Gingrich has certainly said as much. But it is undeniably a convenient way to take attention off what she and her husband might have done. To be fair, Pelosi denies any wrongdoing and the idea that members of Congress cannot trade on information they learn in the course of their official business is at least a gray area. It is not, for the moment at least, explicitly prohibited although legislation is moving quickly that would make it illegal, legislation the San Francisco Democrat now supports. Nevertheless it is nasty can of worms that is not going to go away quickly.