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Originally published November 16, 2011 at 5:16 PM | Page modified November 17, 2011 at 6:48 AM

Gingrich defends ties with Freddie Mac

Newt Gingrich, who has built his presidential candidacy in part around criticism of mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, on Wednesday defended the $1.6 million he reportedly earned while under contract to Freddie Mac.

Tribune Washington bureau

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WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich, who has built his presidential candidacy in part around criticism of mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, on Wednesday defended the $1.6 million he reportedly earned while under contract to Freddie Mac.

Reporters in Iowa asked Gingrich about a Bloomberg News report that his consulting firm took in much more from Freddie Mac than previously reported.

Gingrich, who is near the top in polling on the GOP race, said he didn't remember exactly how much he was paid, but a person familiar with the hiring said it was at least $1.6 million for consulting contracts stretching from 1999 to early 2008. The person spoke on condition of anonymity.

Long unpopular among Republicans, federally backed Freddie Mac and its larger sister institution, Fannie Mae, have become targets for criticism stemming from the housing crisis that helped drive the nation deep into recession and then hampered recovery. Gingrich criticized Barack Obama in 2008 for accepting contributions from executives of the two companies.

The former House speaker said he welcomed the inquiry into his private-sector work.

"Everybody will dig up everything they can dig up," said Gingrich, according to The New York Times.

He said his Gingrich Group offered "strategic advice for a lot of different companies" but he had done no lobbying.

GOP rival Michele Bachmann accused Gingrich of "shilling" for the company.

Gingrich was asked at a debate last week what work he had done to secure a $300,000 payment from Freddie Mac.

"I offered them advice on precisely what they didn't do," he replied. "My advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, 'We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do.' As I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane."

A Bloomberg story disputed Gingrich's account, saying that those familiar with Gingrich's work recalled that his job was to rally support for Freddie Mac among Republicans in Washington.

Gingrich's campaign said he had not worked as a lobbyist or as an advocate for specific legislation involving Freddie Mac.

His consulting firm offered strategic advice to a "wide variety of clients about a wide variety of issues," the campaign said, "including IBM, Microsoft, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more."

The fees paid to the firm are "comparable to that of many consulting firms."

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Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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