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Gingrich Won't Block Probe Findings

Politics: House speaker says, however, he opposes releasing a 'progress report' on tax charges.

September 16, 1996|DAVID G. SAVAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Newt Gingrich pledged Sunday that he would not block a preelection release of an investigator's final report on tax allegations involving his college course, but he did not advocate releasing a "progress report" that is reportedly available.

"I'm totally in favor of releasing the report" when a special counsel hired by the House Ethics Committee completes the probe and submits his findings, he said. "We have been totally cooperative. I am perfectly prepared to say flatly this report should be public when it's finished."

Last week, House Democrats charged that the Ethics Committee received a preliminary report on the Gingrich investigation but decided to keep it confidential until after the election. They noted that Gingrich had helped to bring down former House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) by insisting on the immediate release of an outside counsel's report on his ethical lapses.

The Democrats said they will seek a House vote to force release of the report on Gingrich.

Interviewed Sunday on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," Gingrich said independent counsel James M. Cole has submitted only a "progress report" on interviews and fact-gathering, not a report assessing whether Gingrich violated the tax laws.

"I'm not trying to delay anything," he said, adding that the Democratic charges are an attempt to make him a political issue.

"They're the anti-Newt party. They have no positive issues. No positive ideas. All they can do is attack Newt," Gingrich said.

The investigation concerns whether Gingrich solicited tax-free funds to finance a college course, "Renewing American Civilization," that was broadcast by satellite. An ethics complaint by former Democratic Rep. Ben Jones, who lost to Gingrich in Georgia, contends that the course was more political than educational and did not deserve tax-exempt status.

In a fund-raising letter, Gingrich described the course as one that would give young citizens "a model for replacing the welfare state."

Tax lawyers and ethics experts have said law in the area is unclear and Cole will be required to judge the true intent of Gingrich's effort.

During the TV interview, Gingrich also voiced his support for legislation to bar those who are convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a handgun.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), has been gaining strength in recent weeks, and Senate Democrats have urged Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole to urge GOP lawmakers to back the bill.

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