Mitt Romney’s key debate line of late is that Newt resigned in disgrace over ethics charges. It’s even featured in the most recent Romney advertisement (not his SuperPAC) running in Florida.

I posted links the other day showing that the charges against Newt were political and that he ultimately was was vindicated on the single (out of 84) charge to which he agreed to be sanctioned and pay the costs of the investigation.  Mark Levin has been outspoken in his objection to the Romney accusations.

Now Byron York has written the definitive take down of the claim that Newt did anything wrong, and that the decision to agree to sanctions was anything other than a politcial decision (h/t several readers in the Tip Line), What Really Happened in the Gingrich Ethics Case?

First, York framed the current Romney position:

The Romney campaign has been hitting Newt Gingrich hard over the 1990s ethics case that resulted in the former Speaker being reprimanded and paying a $300,000 penalty. Before the Iowa caucuses, Romney and his supporting super PAC did serious damage to Gingrich with an ad attacking Gingrich’s ethics past.  Since then, Romney has made other ads and web videos focusing on the ethics matter, and at the Republican debate in Tampa Monday night, Romney said Gingrich “had to resign in disgrace.”

In private conversations, Romney aides often mention the ethics case as part of their larger argument that Gingrich would be unelectable in a race against President Obama….

Then York, who covered the ethics investigation in the 1990s, laid out what really happened.  Unfortunatey, the truth can’t be summarized in a 30-second commercial.  The short story is that there was a trumped-up claim by a Democratic political rival in Georgia that Newt improperly used a history course he taught for political purposes, the Democratic Party used the accusation as payback for Newt having led Republicans to re-take the House in1994, the attackes were pushed by David Bonior based on novel theories, and used relentlessly by the biased mainstream media to attack Republicans.  Read the full article, where the details are laid out.

At the end of it all, there was no there there, and Gingrich agreed to the sanctions to stop the damage to the Party:

With the charges against Gingrich megaphoned in the press, Gingrich and Republicans were under intense pressure to end the ordeal.  In January, 1997, Gingrich agreed to make a limited confession of wrongdoing in which he pleaded guilty to the previously unknown offense of failing to seek sufficiently detailed advice from a tax lawyer before proceeding with the course.  (Gingrich had in fact sought advice from two such lawyers in relation to the course.)   Gingrich also admitted that he had provided “inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable” information to Ethics Committee investigators.  That “inaccurate” information was Gingrich’s contention that the course was not political — a claim Cole and the committee did not accept, but the IRS later would.

But it did not stop there.  Democrats tried to get the IRS to pursue charges against Newt, but after an exhaustive investigation, Newt was vindicated:

It was a huge victory for Democrats.  They had deeply wounded the Speaker.  But they hadn’t brought him down.  So, as Bonior suggested, they sought to push law enforcement to begin a criminal investigation of Gingrich….

The bottom line: Gingrich acted properly and violated no laws.  There was no tax fraud scheme. Of course, by that time, Gingrich was out of office, widely presumed to be guilty of something, and his career in politics was (seemingly) over.

There was no crime or ethics violation committed.  The Republican Party, which retook the presidency in the 2000 election was better off for Newt having put the matter to rest when he did rather than dragging out the fight for years.

Newt also did not resign his Speakership because of the ethics charges, as the WaPo fact checker found.  He resigned two years later because Republicans, though holding the House, did not do as well as expected in the 1998 House elections.

The other irony of all this is that in the mid-1990s while Newt and others were fighting for the Contact with America, taking back the House, Romney joined with the Democrats in attacking the conservative agenda.

So the next time Romney states at a debate or runs an ad alleging that Newt resigned in disgrace because of ethics charges, remember Mike Huckabee’s line from 2008 in response to Romney attack ads.

 
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