America's Criminal Class - Part III
promising accountability, Speaker Newt Gingrich took care of his
By the staff
of Capitol Hill Blue
August 18, 1999
March of 1998,
a casual observer might have thought California Republican Congressman
Jay Kim's career was over.
Kim had admitted to committing the largest amount of campaign violations
ever by a member of Congress. More than one-third of the contributions
to his 1992 primary campaign, which he won by only 889 votes, were
"Jay Kim probably stole a congressional election in 1992 by
this fraudulent campaign financing scheme. If the House is serious
about the meaning of elections and democracy, they'll expel him,
and soon," said Gary Ruskin, who directs the Congressional
Accountability Project. "In my view, Jay Kim's presence
cheapens the moral authority of every other member there."
After pleading guilty to accepting more than $250,000 in illegal
corporate and foreign campaign contributions, Kim was sentenced
to two months of "house arrest," restricted to his suburban
Virginia home and the halls of Congress.
But he kept his job, and all the perks that went with it. The following
month, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) appointed Kim to the
House-Senate group negotiating the budget-busting highway bill.
"He's a very active member," said House Transportation
Committee Chairman Bud Shuster.
"His plight has not diminished his effectiveness here in Congress,"
said fellow California Republican David Drier.
Kim's estranged wife, June, was less charitable.
"It's really frustrating that our law is not tough enough
to get him out right away," she said. "He's humiliated
Despite her wishes, and the demands of others, the law did not
require Kim to quit and Congressional leaders, as a rule, usually
find a way to accommodate, not punish, fellow members who break
Other House members have kept their seats even while serving in
prison: Rep. Thomas Lane (D-Mass.) went to jail from May 7 to Sept.
7, 1956, for tax evasion and Rep. Matthew Lyon (R-Vt.) was imprisoned
for violating the Sedition Act in 1798 but returned to Congress
after a mob broke him out of jail.
Kim announced immediately after his conviction and sentencing that
he would run for re-election to a fourth term.
"His plan is to win the primary, win the general election
and move ahead," spokesman P.J. O'Neil said at the time.
California Republicans rallied to Kim's defense. Rep. Jerry Lewis,
predicted Kim would defy the predictions of his political demise.
"Jay, I expect, will be with us for a long time," Lewis
He wasn't. Kim was creamed in the California congressional primary
just two months later.
Gingrich told fellow Republicans he saw no reason to punish Kim
or exclude him from Congressional business.
"He's been punished by the court," Gingrich said. "That's
Kim "punishment" was two months home detention and a
$5,000 fine. He could have been sent to prison for three years and
fined more than $100,000. His problems came right when committees
in both the House and Senate were getting ready to probe illegal
campaign contributions to the President's 1996 re-election campaign.
When it comes to members who break the law, leaders of both the
House and Senate usually rally around those in their own party and
call for the heads of those on the other side of the aisle.
When punishment is demanded, the motivation is almost always political
revenge, not justice.
At the time Gingrich showed such leniency to Kim, he was himself
making payments on a $300,000 fine by the ethics committee, the
worst ever levied against a member of Congress. The fine grew out
of charges filed by Michigan Democrat David Bonior, who openly admitted
he was getting even with Gingrich for the Georgia Republican's role
in bringing down former Democratic Speaker Jim Wright of Texas.
"It's called payback," Bonior told reporters.
It's been that way for years in Congress within both parties. When
the Republicans took control of the House and Senate in the 1994
elections, new Speaker of the House Gingrich promised to put an
end to such practices.
Yet during his four years as Speaker, Gingrich often looked the
other way when members of his own party crossed the legal line.
As both the House and Senate prepared to investigate illegal foreign
contributions to the Democratic National Committee and the 1996
Clinton presidential campaign, a number of Republicans urged Gingrich
not to allow Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton of
Indiana to chair the inquiry.
Burton, they said, was damaged goods. Stories were circulating
on the Hill that the fiery Hoosier Republican, a known womanizer,
had fathered a child out of wedlock and that it was only a matter
of time before it surfaced in the media.
Gingrich dismissed the allegations as trivial and unimportant.
The Speaker was engaged in an illicit affair of his own with a House
Agriculture Committee staff member and had little stomach to punish
another member of his own party for extra-marital dalliances.
But Burton had a more serious problem. He had approved nearly $500,000
in payments and salary to a former model named Claudia Keller, who
was also listed as his campaign manager, and who appeared simultaneously
on his political and official House payrolls. It is against the
law for lawmakers to use their office budgets to subsidize their
campaigns, or vice versa.
In Burton's case, the dual payments to Keller, mostly over a nine
year span, were often made during the same periods of time, according
to federal records. In one year, according to House Finance office
documents and FEC records, Keller received almost $22,000 for working
at Burton's Indianapolis and Greenwood district offices an average
of two days a week, along with nearly $44,000 for her full-time
The Burton campaign had also paid Keller $250 a month to rent office
space in her Lawrence, Ind., home, which is outside Burton's district,
by declaring it the campaign headquarters. And Keller also received
more than $50,000 in campaign-related expenses, including payments
for appearances by her clown service, FEC records show.
Keller was well known in Burton's district as a longtime girlfriend.
Denise Range, a neighbor, said she often saw Keller wearing lingerie
when Burton came to visit. Melissa Bickel, another neighbor, said
Keller would send her daughter over to their house when Burton came
calling, which was three or four times a week. When asked about
this at the time, a Burton spokesman said he was not sure what Keller's
duties were, but would "look into it." Keller later moved
to Washington to become the Congressman's scheduler.
Burton eventually went public about his out-of-wedlock child just
before the Indianapolis Star was about to break the story.
Even reluctant Democrats agreed he handled the issue well, admitting
the affair and expressing regret about the damage it inflicted on
But he has not dealt as effectively with the Claudia Keller issue.
The U.S. Attorney in Indianapolis is investigating the Congressman's
possible use of "shadow" employees on the Congressional
When Gingrich's staff discussed Burton's problems, the Speaker
dismissed it with a wave of his hand.
"Old news," he said. "No big deal." Burton
was a loyal soldier, a made man. He would be protected.
"Newt ran the House like a Godfather," says former GOP
staffer Jonathan Luckstill. "His soldiers were protected at
Some say Gingrich was reluctant to deal with problem members because
he had too many skeletons in his own closet. His affair with the
Agriculture Committee Staff Aide Callista Bisek, 33, was in full
bloom. Details of the relationship are only now surfacing as part
of a nasty divorce battle between Gingrich and his estranged wife,
But Gingrich was also having trouble finding enough clean members
of his own party to run the investigations not only into campaign
fundraising abuse, but the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
"Every time the Speaker looked at a potential candidate to
lead the charge, they would have problems," said one former
staff member. "It seemed like everyone had a secret to hide."
Even grandfatherly House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde
had legal and ethical problems.
Hyde served on on the board of directors of Clyde Federal Savings
and Loan Association in Illinois from 1981-84. Regulators seized
Clyde S& L in 1990, and the ensuing taxpayer bailout cost $67
million. In 1993, the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) brought
a civil action against Clyde's board, including Hyde, seeking damages
of $17.2 million for "gross negligence in mishandling the thrift."
Minutes of Clyde's board meetings show Hyde played an active role
in some of the S&L's most foolhardy adventures. He approved
participation in a loan for a Texas luxury beachfront condominium
project that defaulted, costing Clyde $3.7 million.
Clyde had no experience in out-of-state construction loans, and
it made the loan based on information provided by a loan broker
who "stood to receive a substantial fee" if the loan was
approved. (Ironically, the lead lender was Guaranty S&L, of
Harrison, Arkansas -- the same S& L of Bill Clinton's Whitewater
scandal.) Hyde also approved a risky options trading program, and
purchase of Grand Cayman Island Eurodollar securities.
The U.S. District Court refused to dismiss gross negligence claims,
noting the gravity of the RTC's charge that Clyde's directors failed
to "heed regulatory criticisms as set forth in [Federal Home
Loan Bank Board] Examination reports, correspondence, and supervisory
Hyde tried to avoid paying his share of the judgment, claiming,
"I'm a victim of a lawsuit that never should have been brought.
I'm not paying a nickel."
Hyde claimed Congressional immunity, but finally agreed, reluctantly,
to pay after two federal courts told him such immunity does not
exist and that he, as a Congressman, was not above the law.
Gingrich was aware of Hyde's problems, but still decided the silver-haired
Illinois Congressman was the man for the job.
"Right now, Henry has less baggage than many of the others,"
Gingrich told his senior staffers. "He can handle the job."
But it wasn't Hyde's ethical problems with the S&L that would
haunt him during the impeachment inquiry. It was a 30-year-old affair
back in Illinois. The media, it turned out, was also more obsessed
with sex than ethics.
Some critics feel Hyde mishandled the impeachment inquiry into
Clinton's perjury and obstruction of justice from his affair with
a former White House intern.
Gingrich's determination to protect his soldiers was not unique
to his job or his party. Speakers from both sides of the aisle have
used their office to protect their own. Former Democratic Speaker
Tom Foley ignored calls from Democrats and Republicans alike to
remove power Illinois Rep. Dan Rostenkowski from his powerful committee
posts after the Congressman was caught converting official funds
to personal use. Foley did everything he could to protect his friend
Both Foley and Rostenkowski lost their bids for re-election in
the 1994 elections that swept the Democrats out of power and put
the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate. Rostenkowski
later went to prison for his crimes, but is out now and back in
Washington working as a lobbyist.
And it was after those 1994 election that Republicans elected Newt
Gingrich as the new Speaker of the House. He promised, after his
election, to "return accountability to Congress."
(This report was coordinated and written by Capitol Hill Blue
editor Jack Sharp with assistance from researcher Marilyn Crosslyn
and private investigator James Hargill.)
Tomorrow - More cases where the rules don't apply when you're
a member of Congress.