WASHINGTON — Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in 1999 asked his second wife for an "open marriage" or a divorce at the same time he was giving speeches around the country on family and religious values, his former wife, Marianne, told the Washington Post on Thursday.
Marianne Gingrich said she first heard from the former speaker about the divorce request while she was in her mother's home on May 11, 1999, her mother's 84th birthday. Over the phone, as she was having dinner with her mother, Newt Gingrich said to her, "I want a divorce."
Shocked, Marianne Gingrich replied: "Is there anybody else?" she recalled. "He was quiet. Within two seconds, when he didn't immediately answer, I knew."
Marianne Gingrich talked on video for two hours to ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross. An edited version of the interview was broadcast on Thursday night's Nightline.
Gingrich brushed aside reporters' questions after a campaign event along the waterfront in Beaufort, S.C. on Thursday before the GOP canddiates' debate.
"Look, I'm not going to say anything about Marianne. My two daughters have already written to ABC complaining about this as tawdry and inappropriate," he said.
Marianne Gingrich said she was speaking out for the first time this year because she wanted her story told from her point of view, rather than be depicted as the victim or suffer a whisper campaign by Gingrich's supporters.
Asked about the timing of the revelations, she said she had had so many requests for interviews that "it was unavoidable." She said that during a campaign season, "I knew I wouldn't get through this year without" doing the interview.
Marianne Gingrich has said Gingrich proposed to her before the divorce from his first wife was final in 1981; they were married six months later. Her marriage to Gingrich ended in divorce in 2000, and Gingrich has admitted he'd already taken up with congressional staffer Callista Bisek, now his wife. The speaker who pilloried President Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky was himself having an affair at the time.
Underscoring the potential threat to his rise, Gingrich's campaign released a statement from his two daughters from his first marriage — Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman — suggesting that Marianne Gingrich's comments may be suspect given the emotional toll divorce takes on everyone involved.
"Anyone who has had that experience understands it is a personal tragedy filled with regrets and sometimes differing memories of events," their statement said.
In the weeks after that 1999 phone call, Marianne and Newt Gingrich saw a counselor. During that time, he seemed to vacillate about what he wanted to do. Marianne Gingrich had learned the name of his then-paramour, though Newt Gingrich never talked about her by name.
Newt Gingrich asked Marianne for an "open marriage" so that he could continue to see whomever he wanted. Marianne Gingrich, refused.