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  •   Gingrich Is Neutral on Kim's Campaign

    By Walter Pincus
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, March 16, 1998; Page A04

    House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has decided to stay neutral in the June 2 GOP primary in which Rep. Jay Kim (R-Calif.) is being challenged by two opponents, according to congressional sources.

    Gingrich made the decision after meeting with Kim and Rep. John Linder (Ga.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), last Wednesday to hear Kim's request for House GOP leadership support as he seeks reelection to a fourth term.

    Kim, the first Korean American elected to Congress, pleaded guilty last August to five misdemeanor violations of campaign fund laws and was sentenced last week to two months home detention.

    Congressional aides briefed on the 40-minute session in Gingrich's office said that any change in the GOP leadership position on not supporting a candidate in the three-way primary would come only after the House ethics committee completes an investigation into Kim's acknowledged campaign violations and allegations of inaccuracies in his past financial disclosure statements filed with the House.

    Sources familiar with the ethics investigation said the panel's processes may delay any final decision on Kim until well after the California primary vote.

    Kim asked for the meeting with Gingrich and Linder – whose NRCC provides financial support to House incumbents running for reelection – so he could review with the leadership the impact his guilty plea and sentence could have on his reelection effort. Kim stressed to Gingrich and Linder, as he had in his court appearance, that although he "regretted" what he had done and apologized for his actions, the charges against him were primarily technical, sources said.

    Kim's spokesman, P.J. O'Neil, described last Wednesday's session as "productive and positive" and said the discussion focused on the "charges and their impact [on the campaign] and how to address unsubstantiated allegations out there" about Kim.

    O'Neil called the speaker and Kim "close personal friends" and said Gingrich "provided expert advice to Mr. Kim about his reelection campaign strategy insofar as he's on the ballot and running."

    Other congressional sources familiar with the session said "it was mostly a listening session for Gingrich," and O'Neil's description of it contained "some dramatic license."

    A spokesman for Linder said after the meeting that "nothing had changed" for the NRCC to make a decision. "The [NRCC] is not taking a position until the ethics committee plays out," the spokesman said, and as a result it is unlikely to be involved in the primary.

    In talking with Gingrich and Linder about his primary campaign, Kim discussed raising with his constituents "how Justice [Department prosecutors] had aggressively moved against the only Asian American Republican in Congress as against the slow pace against other Asian Americans who gave much more money to Democrats," O'Neil said.

    Justice Department prosecutors, in their filings, have said their work on the Kim case began in 1993 as a result of stories in the Los Angeles Times, well before allegations of campaign finance violations by Democratic Party donors in the 1996 presidential election. It took more than three years before the first indictments were announced against corporations that contributed to Kim.

    O'Neil said Kim may also charge that "the Korean American community has been unjustly harassed" by the prosecution's review of contributions from all over the country from that ethnic group.

    Pete Pierce, who with state Assemblyman Gary Miller is challenging Kim in the June GOP primary, criticized the legislator for threatening to use the argument that he had been singled out for prosecution because of his Asian American background.

    "It is incredibly sad and cynical," Pierce said in a telephone interview. Kim "already doesn't have the universal support of the Korean community," Pierce added, saying some Korean Americans in the district had talked to him about the embarrassment the conviction had created among that group.

    Pierce, an Orange Country deputy district attorney, has already made Kim's guilty plea campaign material. Even before the sentencing, he called for Kim's resignation.

    Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who recruited Kim as a GOP candidate more than six years ago, also attended the meeting in Gingrich's office and said that Kim, after the sentencing, had a good chance of retaining the traditionally Republican seat, according to an aide.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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