Wounded GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney went on the attack in the latest Republican debate Friday night, calling former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich an influence peddler who resigned from Congress in disgrace after his peers censured him and forced him to pay a $300,000 fine for ethics violations.
Gingrich, surprisingly muted while under attack, attempted to deflect the charges but appeared unusually ill at ease during the assault.
“The Speaker was given the opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994, and the end of our years, he had to resign in disgrace,” Romney told the debate at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “In the 15 years after he left the Speakership, the speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington.”
Romney criticized Gingrich for the $1.6 million in “consulting fees” he collected from housing agency Freddie Mac, saying the former speaker profited while others suffered in foreclosures driven by the economic downturn.
Rather than answer the charges, Gingrich referred viewers to his web site, saying “I’m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Gov. Romney’s misinformation. He said at least four thigngs that are false. I don’t want ot waste time on it. This is the worst kind of trivial politics.”
It was Romney, however, who aimed most of the opening time of the debate with pointed attacks at Gingrich.
“I don’t think we can possibly retake the White House if the person leading the party is the person working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac,” he said.
Before the debate, Gingrich released his contract with Freddie Mac, which showed his consulting firm was paid $1.6 million in fees and that Gingrich reported directly to the organization’s chief lobbyist.
Gingrich contends he was merely serving as a “historian” for the mortgage giant.
Romney found that claim laughable.
“They don’t pay people $25,000 a month for six years as historians,” Romney said. This contract proves you were not a historian, your were a consultant…and you were fired by the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac.”
The debate showcased Romney’s strategy to try and stop the momentum that Gingrich gainsed with his upset win in South Carolina. He has one week to see if it works.