Following are excerpts from a telephone conference call that Speaker Newt Gingrich had with other House Republican leaders and his lawyer, Ed Bethune. A tape of the call was given to the New York Times by a congressman who insisted on anonymity. The congressman said the tape was given to him last Tuesday by a couple from northern Florida. They told the congressman the call was picked up and recorded from a police scanner on Dec. 21 about 9:45 a.m.
The recording does not begin with the start of the phone call, in which the men are discussing an agreement Gingrich had made in which he promised not to orchestrate a Republican counterattack against ethics charges that were about to be filed against him.
GINGRICH: But Ed, is Cole (James Cole, the ethics committee's special counsel) aware of our talk today?
BETHUNE: He is aware that you are going to talk to the leadership. That is correct.
GINGRICH: He was going to brief the subcommittee. The message we got yesterday was they fully expect me to campaign for speaker, and that that in no way violates the agreement. So that stirring up support for me as speaker in their judgment, as long as it isn't done in a way that undermines the committee.
BETHUNE: Newt can campaign for speaker, no problem. Newt cannot himself say anything publicly about this because that is what he has agreed. He will make no public statements.
GINGRICH: Beyond the statement, we are releasing ----. (Inaudible.) UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Can we characterize that agreement? That's an agreement as part of our ----.
BETHUNE: No. I didn't say there was an agreement. I said there was a delicate process under way and that this is what Newt is going to do, in response to the delicate process. There is no agreement, no deal. We are not authorized to say that. Now if I can be very delicate here. There is one other constraint. He can run for speaker, but he must maintain his confidentiality as far as public statements. And then, finally, Newt will not orchestrate, nor will he be ---- he will not orchestrate any attempt to spin this in such a way that it belies what he is admitting today in the statement of alleged violations.
And so, now having said that, having served as a member, you know when documents become public, I as a member, am entitled to say whatever the hell I want to say about those public documents. I guess that applies to any of you all who may be listening. But we want the record to be absolutely (inaudible) and clear here that Newt is not, nor does he desire for anybody in his (inaudible) to go out and try to help him. As you saw this week, we had a bad press day on Friday because on Thursday some of our dearest friends went out with an intention to help but, in fact, caused more harm than good. And, you know, with friends like that.
DICK ARMEY: Ed, I think that the statement that Bill read though is in compliance with all those points.
TOM DeLAY: Sounds to me like you're just saying that it might sit better, and I think it wouldn't look like it was part of some cooked operation if it came maybe as part of a (inaudible).
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: I understand what you guys got to do in the speaker's office. We cannot let a news cycle go by, not even let several hours go by.
BILL PAXON: So when the committee issues that report, before we have an immediate response. Because they will certainly have a war room set up on the other side, and if we have several hours or a day go by when our members are out there without response, it will be a disaster, that's right.
ARMEY: And Bill, I think Bill's right on that. I think the statement as I recall hearing it is acceptable, and it probably could go a couple of hours.
PAXON: When will we see your statement, Newt?
GINGRICH: My guess is, and I think they are running about 15 minutes late, my guess is we will have our statement out before noon. And if there was a way, I'm not an expert, but if there was a way to have by two or three to have some kind of statement also on the wire.
ARMEY: Oh, yeah.
MR. GINGRICH: At that point we're in by the evening news, catch the morning papers.
BETHUNE: Let me explain a technicality here which will help you all understand the time frame. Of course the subcommittee is bound to confidentiality by the rules of the committee until such time as an answer is filed. No answer has been filed. Because the subcommittee is meeting today, here, personally, because they are today voting the statement of alleged violations.
Obviously, you can't answer something until it has been voted. So they are meeting soon, as we speak, I guess. They will discuss and then vote the statement of alleged violations. That, the confidentiality rule is still in place until Newt files his answer. Newt is sending through me an answer that he is signing today, which essentially says I admit the statement of violations. I will hand carry that to the committee room and deliver it to the special counsel.
At that moment the committee is authorized to release its statement of alleged violations. But the committee does not wish to release its statement of violation at that point because it feels that it owes an obligation to the full committee members to give them a heads up about what they are about to do. And so they have asked for a two-hour embargo after we hand in our answer, during which time they contemplate a conference call to discuss with the full committee members all the ramifications of this, and that would be the first time the full committee members would hear whatever it is the subcommittee members intend to say to them.
And it would also be a time when we are authorized to have the conversation that we are having now, a little prematurely. But I don't think it would be troubling to anyone that we are a little ahead of the gun. We are also asked to embargo our response so that we don't get ahead of the committee.
ARMEY: Ed, we all, guys, let me suggest this. I'd like to hear the statement one more time, and then perhaps what we could all, if we all think it is complete, agree to it, and let Ed then determine the appropriate time as quickly as is appropriate that it be released. Does that work? Him being on the ground and having----.
PAXON: I don't know. Ed can you, can you be involved in orchest----, you know, if we----.
BETHUNE: No, I think all I can do, Bill, is, Ed, tell me who to call, and I will say that it is now perfectly acceptable---- for----.
GILLESPIE: As soon as Ed gives us the word to put out the statement Mr. Paxon read, because we know that Bonior is going to be having a press conference shortly thereafter, alleging a bunch of things that go too far. Once he has kicked that off, that would give us an opportunity to then go back and refute what he has said, and we have not jumped the gun on anything and we have simply responded----.
GINGRICH: Ed's very clever (inaudible). Walker said why not have Bonior up for tomorrow, then, because he will undoubtedly say things that are not true, will exaggerate what the committee has done.
PAXON: How do you expect to do it, at a press conference, or a statement, or, after Bonior?
GILLESPIE: Yes, a press conference, right after----.
DAN MEYER: Ed, tell me if this crosses the line. Is it possible to include in the statement that Bill read some language that says you know why he is taking responsibility although it is clear he never intended to mislead the committee? I'd fix it over to see if you could repeat that since, you know, it, it, members need to understand that, and it then will be fine.
BETHUNE: Newt cannot be party to crafting any such or orchestrating, but as I said earlier, a member of Congress having received those documents is entitled to say whatever they want to about them.
PAXON: We could say, we have every confidence that Newt did not intend to----.
BETHUNE: If I could strongly make this one point. It is very important for me to be able to say to the special counsel and if necessary to the committee members that we -- and by that I mean the other attorney, Randy Evans, and I, and Newt -- have done everything in our power to try to stop all things that might be construed in any way as an orchestration attempt by Newt Gingrich----.
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: In his statement today, the speaker accepted full responsibility for the mistakes he has made. He also showed that he remains an idealistic and determined leader, that he can learn from those mistakes. One month ago, we issued a statement pledging our political support for Newt's election as speaker in the 105th Congress. Today, with the work of the subcommittee completed, we reiterate our political support. Now what do you want to add?
GINGRICH: Why don't we pick up Ed's language: "Although there is no charge that Newt intentionally misled the committee, Newt was responsible for the mistakes that were made?"
GILLESPIE: And something like: "With this now behind us, it is clear that Newt will be re-elected speaker on Jan. 7."
ARMEY: I am not sure you are ready for this, but you could quote Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers.
GINGRICH: Which one is that?
ARMEY: "I did not mean to deceive you. I never intended to push or shove. I just wish that you was someone that I love."