Newt grovels to save his hide

In an attempt to save his Speakership, Newt Gingrich has apologised after being found guilty by a bipartisan House committee of violating congressional ethics rules and failing to ensure some of his political activities did not violate federal tax laws.

The offences were listed in a report by the House ethics committee, after a two-year investigation of allegations that Mr Gingrich may have improperly used tax-exempt donations to finance a highly political college course he taught until 1994. It also said the Speaker gave untruthful information during the investigation.

In response, Mr Gingrich was contrite as never before. "I was over-confident and in some ways naive," he said in a statement at the weekend, admitting that he stirred a controversy which "could weaken the faith people have in their government ... In my name and over my signature, incomplete, inaccurate and unreliable statements [were provided]".

It is now up to the committee to decide his punishment. This could extend to formal censure or expulsion from the House. But last night a milder sanction, perhaps a reprimand, seemed more probable, enabling him to win a second term as Speaker - the first Republican to do so since 1929. As the committee acknowledged, Mr Gingrich did not seek personal gain from his actions.

Survival is not a foregone conclusion. No mercy is expected from Democrats, and no sooner had the committee issued its conclusions than the Gingrich camp moved to bolster support among Republicans for the 7 January vote. Though the party retained a 20-seat majority in the new House, he can afford very few defections.

Even if he is re-elected, it is clear Speaker Gingrich of the 105th Congress will be a far cry from the brash leader of the 104th, who became the most unpopular figure in American politics. The meek admission of wrongdoing follows two years of insistence that he was the victim of a witch-hunt by Democrats, smarting from having lost control of the House.

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