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Gingrich on Defensive Over Freddie Mac Ties

It took about one day for Newt Gingrich to show up near the top of the polls in the Republican primary for the oppo research to come out in force. The only reason for the delay was probably that researchers didn’t know what to use first.

They settled on Gingrich’s time working for Freddie Mac, which came up in last week’s CNBC economic debate, so it was a nice, seamless transition. At the time, Gingrich said he got $300,000 from Freddie Mac to act as a “historian.” It turned out that the number was a bit more than five times higher.

Newt Gingrich made between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from two contracts with mortgage company Freddie Mac, according to two people familiar with the arrangement […]

Gingrich’s business relationship with Freddie Mac spanned a period of eight years. When asked at the debate what he did to earn a $300,000 payment in 2006, the former speaker said he “offered them advice on precisely what they didn’t do,” and warned the company that its lending practices were “insane.” Former Freddie Mac executives who worked with Gingrich dispute that account […]

What he did for the money is a subject of disagreement. Gingrich said during the CNBC debate that he advised the troubled firm as a “historian.” Gingrich said he warned that the company’s business model was a “bubble” and its lending practices were “insane.”

None of the former Freddie Mac officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Gingrich raised the issue of the housing bubble or was critical of Freddie Mac’s business model.

Like virtually everything in Gingrich’s career, his story on Freddie Mac is rife with inaccuracies and contradictions. Gingrich capitalized on Freddie’s woes in 2008, and criticized Democrats for their ties to the government-sponsored entity, despite having received seven figures in income from them. This is on par with his criticisms of Bill Clinton’s adultery while leaving his wife for a younger woman when she was in the hospital for cancer.

Gingrich is spinning furiously today. He says that he was not a lobbyist and only offered “strategic advice,” even though Freddie Mac sources dispute that the advice was in no way strategic, and said mainly that he was hired for his relationships with House Republicans. Gingrich says he didn’t remember how much he was paid by Freddie Mac. And he attempted this amazingly inarticulate feat of language to cover for his activities:

The New York Time’s Trip Gabriel: “Do you recall any of the strategic advice you did give?…Expanding housing for low-income Hispanic communities, for example?”

Gingrich: “Well, first of all, if you can do it in a way that is financially sound, every American should be interested in expanding housing opportunities for people whether they’re African American, or Latino or of any background so the idea that you’re thinking about how can we help people learn how to budget, how can we help people learn how to save, how could you help them learn how to maintain a house on a low income would strike me, for more people, would be good things to do, not bad things to do and I’m happy to say I made public speeches to the National Association of Home Builders. I’m in favor of the largest possible home ownership. This is all public knowledge. I’m in favor of doing the right kind of things and you can go talk to Rick Lazio about the support I gave him as speaker on housing reform which he pushed through despite opposition of some of the people like Barney Frank and others, so I think the record there is one of I’m pretty consistent and frankly, I tend to give the same strategic advice in private I give in public.”

Sounds like he earned that $1.6 mil!

The conservative movement has spent years demonizing Freddie Mac as completely responsible for the financial crisis. That’s ridiculous, but I’ve just explained how they are not working in the interests of homeowners. And they were a very corrupt institution. In the context of a Republican primary, admitting to working for Freddie Mac is the equivalent of being a union shop steward. We already knew that Gingrich’s candidacy wasn’t serious. But I’m glad he’s stumbled into the lead, so that he can be completely discredited once again.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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