Weary truce that ensures second term for Gingrich

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The US House of Representatives yesterday moved to wrap up a wrenching two-year investigation of Newt Gingrich by imposing punishment - unprecedented for a Speaker - of an official reprimand and a $300,000 (pounds 180,000) fine for violating its ethics rules and then misleading the Congressional committee investigating his case.

Thus has been struck, after a perfunctory debate which Mr Gingrich did not attend, a weary peace between Democrats demanding that the Speaker step down, and his Republican colleagues who maintained his offences were trivial: "political jaywalking" in the words of one key supporter.

Yesterday's vote came after the publication of a report by the House Ethics Committee, which found that Mr Gingrich "over a number of years and in a number of situations" had breached the normal boundaries of congressional conduct - most recently by using tax-exempt funds for financing a highly partisan college course, and then providing the committee with wrong information.

Just before Christmas, a chastened Mr Gingrich admitted wrongdoing.

In essence, he struck a deal with the committee by accepting a reprimand, a sanction that allows him to become the first Republican in 68 years to serve a second consecutive two-year term in the Speaker's chair.

But controversy, and uncertainty over his future, could easily resurface if the Speaker takes the advice of some of his followers, and tries to pay the fine with unused campaign funds instead of from his own pocket.

Alternatively, the tax authorities may choose to press charges for wrongful use of tax-exempt funds.

With many Republicans already highly uneasy about having voted to re- elect him on 7 January, either development could prove fatal for Mr Gingrich.