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Outsider May Probe Gingrich Conduct : House: Evidence may support need for independent counsel, sources say. Speaker comes under fire for backing anti-abortion compromise.


WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House Ethics Committee have instructed the panel's staff to research the possibility of hiring either an "outside" or "independent" counsel to investigate House Speaker Newt Gingrich's conduct, Republican sources said Tuesday.

Although Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, has strongly opposed the use of an outside investigator, Republican members reportedly decided that they had enough evidence on some allegations of unethical conduct to consider naming someone other than committee counsel to conduct the continuing investigation.

A final decision will not be made until Congress returns from its summer recess after Labor Day, a committee source said.

"We've gone a long way toward deciding to narrow the scope of the investigation," the source said. But members want to move ahead on some fronts and "are considering an outside counsel that would still be answerable to the committee."

While Gingrich has been away from the capital hawking his best-selling book, much of the talk in Washington revolves around the investigation and two more problems that have cropped up for the Speaker:

* The Republican National Coalition for Life, a powerful anti-abortion group headed by conservative Phyllis Schlafly, bitterly assailed Gingrich for supporting a compromise on the party's anti-abortion plank.

* A critical profile by Gail Sheehy in the September issue of Vanity Fair magazine quotes his wife, Marianne Ginther Gingrich, as saying she does not see her husband very often and that she does not want him to be President because it would give her a role--First Lady--she does not want.

The Ethics Committee's investigation includes looking into whether Gingrich's book, "To Renew America," resulted from a taxpayer-subsidized college course he taught that was used as a means of raising funds for political purposes. The book is a runaway best-seller and is expected to make millions of dollars for the Speaker.

Gingrich has repeatedly denied any conflict-of-interest or other wrongdoing in connection with the book deal or any of the other allegations about unethical conduct.

He was unavailable for comment on the Vanity Fair article, but Tony Blankley, his spokesman, called it "standard tabloid trash."

In the article, Sheehy says Gingrich coached her about what to write, telling her: "I think you can write a psychological profile of me that says I found a way to immerse my insecurities in a cause large enough to justify whatever I wanted it to."

The Speaker said, according to the article, that in 1979 and 1980 when his marriage to his first wife, Jackie, who had been his high school teacher, was falling apart, "it was a very, very bad period of my life. It had been getting steadily worse. I ultimately wound up at a point where probably suicide, or going insane, or divorce were the last three options."

Elsewhere in the article, Sheehy writes that Marianne Gingrich said she does not want to be First Lady. "Right now, the presidency is not a single person. It's not so much what he'd be doing. It's what I'd be doing."

"Watching Hillary has just been a horrible experience," Mrs. Gingrich said sympathetically, of President Clinton's wife. "Hillary sticking her neck out is not working."

If her husband does run, "I just go on the air the next day, and I undermine everything. . . . I don't want him to be President," she said.

The Republican National Coalition for Life, in a prepared statement, criticized Gingrich for saying in a CNN interview Sunday that he would support making cases of rape and incest exceptions to the Republican Party platform's ban against all abortions.

"Gingrich, while not denying that the babies in question are living human beings, acquiesced in the position that it's OK to kill some of them," the group declared.

Colleen Parro, director of the coalition, said: "The Speaker of the House appears to be driving a wedge between himself and pro-life Republicans by suggesting that some lives are sacred and worthy of protection while others are not. The Republican Party has been the pro-life Party since 1980 and we will not compromise on the pro-life platform plank."

Blankley, Gingrich's spokesman, said that the Speaker, in the CNN interview, was only reiterating a long-held position.

"He is in favor of the exception for rape, incest and the life of the mother," Blankley said.

"Sometimes he's going to disagree with folks he usually agrees with. This is one of them," he said.

Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this story.

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