The evening that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein named Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Newt Gingrich was effusive in his praise of the former FBI director.
A “superb choice” with a reputation that is “impeccable for honesty and integrity.”
Less than a month later, though, his tune had changed.
It took very little time for people to note the incongruity between those two comments. In a subsequent tweet, Gingrich outlined three reasons he changed his mind.
That Comey asked a friend to inform the New York Times about a conversation he’d had with President Trump is connected to Mueller through Gingrich’s second point: The two former FBI directors are “close.” To Gingrich’s third point, two recent Mueller hires, Andrew Weissmann and Michael Dreeben, gave to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, although not subsequently. On the strength of those three arguments, Gingrich now views Mueller as hopelessly tainted.
The change since May has been significant, certainly. The change since 1998 — when Gingrich was the speaker of the House managing the investigation of President Bill Clinton that would eventually lead to Clinton’s impeachment — is perhaps even more stark.
During that period, Gingrich repeatedly rose to the defense of Kenneth Starr, the independent investigator appointed by a judicial panel to investigate the Whitewater land deal. (All of the quotes below come from contemporaneous news reports indexed by Nexis.)
- “I have no comment on what’s happening, but I think every citizen ought to slow down, relax and wait for the facts to develop.” January 1998
- “People want us to be calm and serious citizens, not partisans, as we approach reluctantly anything that Judge Starr might do.” March 1998
- “I’ve said for three months nothing matters until Judge Starr reports. Guess what? Everyone should take a deep breath and step back. Nothing matters until Judge Starr reports. Everything else is noise.” April 1998
- “The rule of law is paramount. We’re sworn to uphold the Constitution. We’re not sworn to uphold public opinion polls. And we will do our duty if and when Judge Starr gives us our duty to do. In the absence of that, we will be patient.” April 1998
- There are two principles “I am prepared to live and die on. The first is that the American people have the right to know about basic facts. And the second is that we are a nation under the rule of law and no person, including the president, is above the law.” April 1998
- “For anybody to talk about doing anything before we finish the investigative process simply puts the cart before the horse.” September 1998
He criticized the White House for its criticism of Starr.
- “I think it is disgraceful that official representatives of the executive branch are undermining a legitimate, legal investigation of the Department of Justice.” March 1998
- “If he doesn’t want to fire Ken Starr, he should tell his staff to shut up. I am sickened by how unpatriotically they undermine the Constitution of the United States on behalf of their client.” April 1998
- “I think the president should bring all of his staff into a room and say, ‘No more spinning. No more fun and games. No more vicious attacks. Why don’t we slow down and tell the truth and let the American people know what happened and let the chips fall where they may.” May 1998
- “We have the spectacle in Washington today of the president frankly as defendant-in-chief. It would have been inconceivable for Washington or Franklin or Jefferson or Hamilton to have the person sworn to uphold the Constitution as the chief law-enforcement officer using every defense item he can find from every defense lawyer in town.” May 1998
Gingrich’s broader comments also seem pertinent.
- “I sympathize with how many people feel deeply disturbed that this is not Dwight Eisenhower, this is not Ronald Reagan, this is not the kind of presidency that people would like to identify with the United States of America. And I think all of us are better served by being patient and letting Judge Starr finish.” April 1998
- “The American people have the right to expect that the rule of law will prevail, that no one is above the law.” April 1998
- “It would make us a much healthier country if the news media took a pretty big break and just said, ‘Let’s focus on other things for a while and let Judge Starr continue his job.’ ” August 1998
Gingrich seems not to have heeded some of the advice he offered to his political opponents back when it was a Democratic president being investigated.
For what it’s worth, Starr donated to Republican candidates, too: more than $5,000 in the 1993-1994 election cycle to candidates for the House and the Senate, including John Ashcroft’s Senate bid in Missouri.
That didn’t seem to taint Gingrich’s opinion.