For Immediate Release: For More Information Contact:

Wednesday, March 29, 1995 Gary Ruskin (202) 296-2787

Open Letter From Ralph Nader to Representative Nancy Johnson

Concerning Authorizing an Independent Counsel to Investigate Charges

Against Speaker Newt Gingrich

I am writing to request that you immediately halt House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct deliberations on ethics complaints pending against House Speaker Newt Gingrich until you authorize an independent counsel to investigate the charges against him.

Several news articles indicate that your Committee may have completed an initial review of the charges pending against Mr. Gingrich. This is a serious and indefensible breach of tradition by the Committee. Since 1980, the Committee has authorized independent counsel for every significant ethics investigation. Why do you insist on breaking with this tradition?

The Committee does not have sufficient credibility among the American people to warrant your proceeding with a review of the long list of credible charges against Speaker Gingrich. Your own partisan ties to him, as well as your early support for his candidacy for House Minority Whip, and your monetary contribution to his campaign committee raise doubts about whether the charges against Speaker Gingrich will receive a full, thorough investigation, or a sweetheart whitewash. The charges against Speaker Gingrich are serious; they do not belong in your hands -- until after a non-partisan independent counsel of unquestioned integrity is appointed.

Speaker Gingrich has demonstrated a serious disregard and contempt for some basic ground rules upon which our democracy is built. The attached list of alleged violations of law, and House Rules is indicative. Perhaps to him these laws and rules are a species of ethical "gnats" which buzz meaninglessly in the wind. But to taxpayers and voters, they provide what feeble protection we have against the overwhelming influence of money on politics. These laws and Rules are expected to prevent members of Congress -- and the entire federal government -- from being bought or rented.

Mr. Gingrich himself said it best when calling for an independent counsel to review the more limited charges facing then-Speaker Jim Wright:

The more he has been scrutinized by the news media, the more questions about his possible unethical behavior there are to be answered...The volume of published evidence clearly calls for investigation, and, as the questions raised against the Speaker are serious, it is imperative that this cloud no longer hang over this great institution. It is vital that the Ethics Committee hire outside counsel and pursue these questions thoroughly. The trust of the public and the integrity of the House will accept no lower standard. (Newt Gingrich news release 5/26/88).

Without an independent counsel, whatever decision the Committee might make regarding the profusion of serious and credible charges against the Speaker will be tainted by the partisan ties that you and several other Committee members have to Mr. Gingrich, as well as the justifiable perception that Congress is a "good ol' boys" club whose members lack the integrity needed to police themselves.