Marianne and Newt Gingrich have acknowledged pain in their marriage before. But the apparent end of their 18-year union came as a series of shocks nonetheless to the woman who had stood by her man during his stormy tenure as speaker of the House of Representatives.
Marianne Ginther Gingrich was visiting her childhood home in Ohio in early May to celebrate her mother's 84th birthday when her husband phoned. After offering birthday wishes to his mother-in-law, Gingrich asked to speak to his wife. Virginia Ginther soon found her daughter in tears.
"I said, 'Marianne, what's wrong?' " Ginther recalled yesterday. She said Marianne replied: "He doesn't want me as his wife anymore."
There was a second jolt soon after. Newt Gingrich, now 56, informed his wife that he was having an affair with a congressional aide, a woman 23 years his junior, Ginther said.
"I was totally shocked," Marianne Gingrich, 48, said yesterday in an interview from her home in Marietta, Ga. "I had no idea."
This week, a judge in Georgia gave Marianne's divorce attorneys permission to question Gingrich and Callista Bisek, of Arlington, about their relationship.
Bisek, 33, who bears a passing resemblance to Hillary Rodham Clinton, has been a scheduler and assistant hearing clerk for the House Agriculture Committee since early 1995. Gingrich oversaw the panel as speaker, although he was not a member of it.
It's not clear how long Bisek (pronounced BISS-eck) and Gingrich have been involved. Nor are other details of their romance, such as how they met, known. Messages left at Bisek's home were not returned yesterday. Newt Gingrich also was unavailable.
The judge's order could open Gingrich to the same sort of intimate questioning that dogged President Clinton in the wake of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton met Lewinsky while she was a White House intern.
Gingrich resigned from his speakership after House Republicans fared poorly in last November's midterm elections. He left the House altogether in January after 10 terms in office and is now lecturing and giving radio commentary.
During the investigation and impeachment of Clinton, Gingrich generally refrained from specific criticism of the president's personal behavior. But during his term as speaker, House Republicans voted to impeach a president for the first time in 130 years.
Gingrich also has been an outspoken advocate of "core values," saying in a speech in May: "We have had a 35-year experiment in a unionized, bureaucratic, credentialed, secular assault on the core values of this country, and we should not be surprised that eventually they yield bad fruit because they are bad seeds."
However, Gingrich has had tempestuous personal relations of his own for years. His first marriage, at age 19, to his former high school geometry teacher, Jackie Battley, dissolved in 1981 after 19 years. The breakup came after his former wife's discovery that she had cancer.
Within months of the divorce, Gingrich married Marianne Ginther, a former county planner from Ohio. The couple have periodically separated during their marriage, and at one point in 1989, Newt Gingrich publicly acknowledged that it might not survive. Gingrich said his "habit of dominance" contributed to their problems.
Responding to questions about marital infidelity, Gingrich once said: "In the 1970s, things happened--period. That's the most I'll ever say. . . . I start with an assumption that all human beings sin. So all I'll say is that I've led a human life."
Marianne Gingrich's divorce attorney, John C. Mayoue of Atlanta, said his client "is prepared to thoroughly investigate [Newt Gingrich's] personal life and business activities."
Under Georgia divorce proceedings, a spouse can gain a superior alimony and property settlement if it can be shown that the other spouse was unfaithful. According to court papers, Marianne Gingrich is asking for "an equitable division" of the couple's property, as well as "reasonable temporary and permanent alimony." As of yesterday, no settlement terms had been offered, Mayoue said.
Mayoue said the couple had a good marriage--acting as partners in business and personal ventures--until Newt Gingrich's "unexpected demand for divorce" in May. The couple set up a corporate consulting company in January, called Gingrich Enterprises, and had been traveling together frequently--from Switzerland to Silicon Valley.
The former speaker's divorce attorney, J. Randolph Evans, said he hopes the two parties can reach an agreement next week. He had no other comment.
Bisek earned a bachelor's degree in music from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988. She is a member of the National Shrine choir at Catholic University. Her videotaped deposition will be taken at her home, probably by mid-September.
In the meantime, Newt Gingrich's wife and mother-in-law are still dealing with their surprise at the news--and their own bitterness. "It's about the cruelest thing you can do," Ginther said of Gingrich's call to her daughter. "You certainly would not want to be told like that."
She added: "I think it's terrible when people get away with things like this. We accepted him like a son. It's just unbelievable."