Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in 1999 asked his second wife for an “open marriage” or a divorce at the same time he was giving speeches around the country on family and religious values, his former wife, Marianne, said Thursday.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Marianne Gingrich said her former husband called her on May 10, 1999, as she was having dinner with her 84-year-old mother and said, “I want a divorce.”
“Is there anybody else?” Marianne Gingrich recalled saying. “He was quiet. Within two seconds, when he didn’t immediately answer, I knew.”
Two days later, Newt Gingrich gave a speech at a conference titled “The Demise of American Culture” sponsored by the Republican Women Leaders Forum in Erie, Pa. Gingrich extolled the virtues of the Founding Fathers and criticized liberal politicians for supporting tax increases, which he said hurt families and children. In the speech, which was televised on C-SPAN, he spoke often of God, families and values.
“When a liberal talks about values, will he or she actually like us to teach American history?” Gingrich told the women’s group. “Will they actually like young people to learn that George Washington was an ethical man? A man of standards, a man who earned the right to be father of this country?”
Marianne Gingrich said she was surprised at the timing. “How could he ask me for a divorce on Monday and within 48 hours give a speech on family values and talk about how people treat people?” she said.
At the Republican presidential debate Thursday night, Gingrich responded directly to his ex-wife’s allegations for the first time, issuing a blanket denial. “The story is false,” he said.
After Gingrich’s comments at the debate, Marianne Gingrich declined to direcly respond to the denial, other than to say she was sticking by her story, which she said is “the truth.”
Earlier in the day at a campaign event in South Carolina, the former speaker of the House had called the interviews with his former wife “tawdry and inappropriate” and refused to answer questions about them. “I’m not going to say anything about Marianne,” he said with his third wife, Callista, standing a few paces behind him.
Gingrich has said on several occasions that he has made mistakes in his life and has asked God for forgiveness.
Marianne Gingrich, 60, has been publicly critical of her former husband in the past, but her most recent accounts are more explicit about the demise of their marriage.
She said she was speaking out because she wanted her story told from her point of view rather than to be depicted as a victim or suffer a whisper campaign by supporters of her former husband’s presidential bid.
She said she had received so many requests for interviews that “it was unavoidable” and“I knew I wouldn’t get through this year without” doing an interview.
In the four weeks after Gingrich asked for a divorce, the couple saw a counselor, and he seemed to vacillate, Marianne Gingrich said. She had learned the name of his paramour, Callista Bisek — now his wife — although Newt Gingrich never talked about her by name. Callista had worked in the House for a GOP representative from Wisconsin, her home state, and then as clerk of the House Agriculture Committee.
After one counseling session, Newt Gingrich asked Marianne for an “open marriage” — though not in exactly those words — so that he could see other women, she said.
Marianne, who had attended services in a Baptist church with her husband, refused.
“He said the problem with me was I wanted him all to myself,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s what marriage is.’ He said [of Callista], ‘She doesn’t care what I do.’ ”
Marianne said, “He was asking me for an open marriage, and I wouldn’t do it.”
Later, Marianne said, her husband told her, “In a few years I’m going to run for president. She’s going to help me become president.”
The divorce was “ugly,” she said, and the stress exacerbated her multiple sclerosis.
Marianne Gingrich also spoke about her marriage to ABC News’s “Nightline” in an interview aired Thursday. Newt Gingrich’s daughters from his first marriage wrote a letter Wednesday to the network asking that the broadcast be killed.
For more than a decade, daughter Kathy Lubbers served as president and chief executive of Gingrich Communications, which promoted her father’s speeches and activities. It was disbanded last year when he decided to run for president.
Her sister, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, has earned more than $56,000 working for her father’s campaign committees in the past two years, records show.
Marianne Gingrich, who was a full-time political wife when married to Gingrich, said many of her views of her former husband and his political positions are positive. She believes that she and Gingrich, whom she married in 1981, accomplished a lot together when he was in Congress.
She said Gingrich has not spoken to her since the divorce.
Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson and staff researchers Alice Crites and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.