Today’s Washington Post carries a story about a “curious case in the annals of the FBI,” but the only curious aspect of the story is why the Post published it — with the headline FBI considered a sting aimed at Newt Gingrich in 1997. That implies that the arguable GOP frontrunner for President had committed some sort of conduct that was shady enough to get the FBI to propose an Abscam-like operation to take Gingrich down. However, that’s not the case at all, but you have to get past the lead paragraph to figure that out:
It is a curious case in the annals of the FBI: The bureau considered a sting operation against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich after sifting through allegations from a notorious arms dealer that a $10 million bribe might get Congress to lift the Iraqi arms embargo.
The FBI ended up calling off the operation in June 1997. It decided there was no evidence that Gingrich knew anything about the conversations the arms dealer was secretly recording with a man who said he was acting on behalf of Gingrich’s then-wife, Marianne,according to people with knowledge of the investigation.
But details of the case, which became public this week in an article and documents posted online by a nonprofit journalist, show how a series of second- and third-hand conversations alleging that the top man in Congress might be for sale caught the attention of federal investigators.
So, let’s get this straight. The FBI heard second- and third-hand that an arms dealer was bragging about having connections to Gingrich, who would singlehandedly lift the arms embargo on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, even though the Speaker had very little power to impact it, because a “cooperating witness” told them that he talked to someone who said he was acting on Marianne Gingrich’s behalf. On the basis of this, the FBI thought about doing a “sting” on Gingrich, but passed on it because they had no evidence that Gingrich even knew any of this was taking place.
That took place fourteen years ago. Oddly, it’s just coming to light now, through a website called DC Bureau, which published the story after the death of the “cooperating witness,” convicted felon Sarkis Soghanalian, whom DC Bureau interviewed “several times prior to his death[.]” It includes Soghanalian’s salacious tidbits about Gingrich and his second wife:
The FBI document states that Soghanalian, Marianne Gingrich, Ash and Bennett spent several days together in Paris. Gingrich said “her relationship with her husband was purely a relationship of convenience,” the document states. “She told [Soghanalian] that she needed her husband for economic reasons, and that he needed to keep her close because she knew of all his ‘skeletons.’ ”
“She also told [Soghanalian], ‘It’s time for me to make money using my husband, and after we get started doing this, it will be easy,” the document says.
Marianne Gingrich calls this “hogwash,” and it’s not to difficult to see why. She and Gingrich had been married 14 years by the time of this meeting in 1995, and they’d be divorced five years later, so it doesn’t appear that Gingrich was terribly afraid of “skeletons” nor she of life after divorce. Furthermore, she had a job that paid her well and involved enough trust for her employer to send her to Paris to drum up investment business, which makes the claim that she was so dependent on her husband that she couldn’t afford to leave him look somewhat preposterous. In fact, if you read the DC Bureau’s story, Marianne says that the biggest economic problem in their household was Newt himself, who wasn’t very disciplined about handling the family finances.
At the end of the day, the FBI didn’t commence a sting against Gingrich because they had no evidence that he knew anything about Soghanalian or was taking bribes. Now, suddenly, the documents mysteriously float to the surface 14 years later just as Newt Gingrich rises to the top of the polls (and perhaps as he may be sliding down them a bit). How did those FBI files, which one would presume would be sealed, and the mysterious Mr. Soghanalian make their way to Joseph Trento, just in time for Gingrich’s presidential run? Neither report explains how this information magically appeared just as Gingrich’s campaign finally started making traction. And nothing in this story gives any indication that Gingrich was in any way corrupt as Speaker of the House.
This is a non-story. It’s only slightly less egregious than the New York Times’ execrable Vicki Iseman hit job on John McCain just after he cinched the nomination. It’s a hit job aimed at a Republican candidate that wouldn’t have passed the smell test in a newsroom had the politician in question been a Democrat.