But details of the case, which became public this week in an article and documents posted online by a nonprofit journalist, show how a series of second- and third-hand conversations alleging that the top man in Congress might be for sale caught the attention of federal investigators.
“There are so many falsehoods,” Marianne Gingrich said Thursday. “The FBI, they should have been protecting me, not going after me. This is scary stuff.”
Her lawyer, Victoria Toensing, said: “There was no basis whatsoever for an investigation. These were people puffing, which means they were making up access to a high-level goverment person.”
Gingrich’s presidential campaign did not provide immediate comment when asked for response Thursday.
The investigation began after the arms dealer, Sarkis Soghanalian, told federal prosecutors and FBI agents in Miami that Marianne Gingrich said during a meeting in Paris in 1995 that she could provide legislative favors through her husband. The case progressed to the point that it was deemed a major investigation requiring approval in Washington.
Soghanalian, a convicted felon who is now dead, said he wanted the speaker’s help in getting the arms embargo lifted so he could collect an $80 million debt from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, according to an FBI document filed to obtain continuing wiretap authorization for the case. The facts in the document were “developed through a cooperating witness,” whom The Washington Post has confirmed was Soghanalian.
Soghanalian said Marianne Gingrich assured him “she would be able to do anything [Soghanalian] requested of her ‘as long as they had an understanding,’ ” the document states.
Several months after the meeting in Paris, a man who had been on the trip with Gingrich and Soghanalian told the arms dealer that the embargo could be lifted for the right price. In conversations recorded by Soghanalian, the man, a Miami car salesman named Morty Bennett, stated that Marianne “wanted 10 million dollars to get the job done, five million of which would go directly to Marianne Gingrich,” the document states.
Bennett said in an interview Thursday, “I knew somebody and introduced them to somebody and that was it. Thank you for calling, and don’t call me back.”
The document and the existence of the aborted sting was first revealed this week in a 6,400-word story by Joseph Trento, who operates a Web site called DC Bureau (www.dcbureau.org). Trento interviewed Soghanalian several times before his death in October at 82.