Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continues to insist he never has done “lobbying of any kind,” particularly not for Freddie Mac. The presidential contender — who has attained front-runner status in some polls — told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren Thursday that all he offered the troubled mortgage giant was ‘strategic advice’ about the legitimacy of government-sponsored enterprises.
Gingrich has come under fire this week for reportedly accepting between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from two contracts with the federally sponsored housing authority.
“I was approached to offer strategic advice — I do no lobbying of any kind — I never have,” Gingrich said. “A very important point I want to make — I have never done lobbying of any kind.
“But let me just say, as an example, there’s a whole issue about whether or not government-sponsored enterprises have any legitimacy,” he said. “Well, I can tell you as a historian they have been used in a variety of ways over all of American history — there are times they've been very, very useful and very valuable.”
Van Susteren asked Gingrich whether he had any idea during his time advising Freddie Mac that the nation’s housing bubble was going to burst — which helped spark the nation’s economic turmoil starting in 2008. The former House speaker said he did not.
“Look, you could see in conversations, particularly by 2007, that the loan standards were becoming absurd. That was just — that was patently obvious,” Gingrich said. “What you couldn’t see was that the Federal Reserve would tighten up in a way that you suddenly had a huge credit crunch — and I think that’s a very different part of the problem.
“I don’t think anybody — whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve or the Council of Economic Advisers or other folks — there were very few people who saw the intensity of the housing problem as it broke loose,” he said. “There were some people . . . who had for a long time been warning that these government-sponsored enterprises were too big, that they were too overleveraged and that they need to be reformed.”
Van Susteren then asked Gingrich what the difference is between “strategic advice” and “lobbying” and how his relationship with Freddie Mac differed from the those between the mortgage giant and Democratic politicians — including President Barack Obama — which he has roundly criticized.
“Well, the difference is that under the leadership of [Rep.] Barney Frank and [former Sen.] Chris Dodd in the Congress and of the president, those institutions have gotten $156 billion of taxpayers’ money —I was a private citizen,” Gingrich said. “I didn’t — I was not involved in doing any of these things, and I wasn’t involved — and in fact, if you go back and ask Congressman Rick Lazio, when he brought up the housing reform bill in 1996, I strongly backed him in reforming housing.
“So there’s a huge difference between what you do when you’re in public office and you’re dealing with the public trust and what you do as a private business person who has no direct power and no direct responsibility and you're sitting there offering advice,” he said. “I was being paid to offer a series of — and I did this, as I said a while ago, at a number of companies who would come in and ask for advice on a wide range of things. And as long as they were topics that I was interested in and topics that I cared about, I was very happy to share ideas with people.
“What I didn’t do and would not do is I didn't go and lobby the Congress — I didn’t go and lobby the executive branch,” Gingrich continued. “I didn’t try to represent any position I didn’t believe in beforehand — And I think that’s a very big difference between being a lobbyist and being a strategic consultant.”
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