A review of Newt Gingrich's divorce records contradicts his public contention that it was his own divorce experience with depositions that forced him to push for Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998. Insisting in a 2000 New York Times interview that he had been "through two tough divorce depositions in my life and I told the truth both times," Gingrich has long justified his votes in favor of all four of the impeachment counts against Clinton on the basis of the president's alleged perjury. But a Daily Beast probe of both divorces can find no evidence that he was ever deposed.
Gingrich's lawyers, and an attorney for his current wife, Callista, successfully fought to avoid disclosure and depositions in the most recent divorce, in 1999, and he repeatedly postponed scheduled depositions in the first case, in 1980.
Alan Lee, the Carroll County clerk of the court, who released the 1980–81 records of Gingrich's Georgia divorce from Jackie Battley last week, told The Daily Beast: "The fact that there was no deposition in the papers indicates to me that it never occurred." Douglas Vassy, the attorney for Battley who was supposed to depose Gingrich, says, "There was no deposition."
John Mayoue, the lawyer for Gingrich's second wife, Marianne Gingrich, told us: "Simply put, he was never deposed." Brenda Ethridge, the judicial administrator tech officer for Cobb County Court in Georgia, did a search of the papers in the 1999 divorce from Marianne and said: "I only see notices for a deposition. But I do not see a deposition." Superior Court Judge Dorothy Robinson, who oversaw the second case, indicated that if it wasn't on the docket, it didn't happen: "I don't recall. I have hundreds of cases. I don't remember if a deposition was given. If it was, it would be in the record." Another source knowledgeable about the second divorce denied there was a Gingrich deposition: "He never did one. No one did. We never got depositions. It was a load of crap."
R. C. Hammond, the Gingrich campaign spokesman, initially responded to a Daily Beast email raising questions about whether Gingrich was deposed in the divorce cases, offering to talk by phone. But when we called the number he left two days ago, he never returned that or subsequent messages and emails. Randy Evans, Gingrich's longtime personal attorney, conceded: "There was never a deposition, but there were filings where he was under oath." Referring to these written responses to interrogatories, Evans said that Gingrich isn't a lawyer, and "I suspect that anytime he's under oath, he treats it as a deposition."
"I guess he's both lying and telling the truth," said Evans, a generous assessment.
Pressed by the Times's James Traub during an extended 2000 interview about whether Gingrich had "sacrificed the right to moral grandstanding" because of his "illicit affair" during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, the recently retired and remarried ex-speaker distinguished himself from Clinton by declaring: "I wasn't lying under oath." He said he "told the truth" in these "tough divorce depositions" because "you swear to tell the truth." Referring to Clinton, he added: "A leader about whom you never know anything in terms of the truth is a very serious problem in a free society."
When Gingrich was preparing for a possible 2008 presidential run in March 2007, he engaged in a prolonged telephone interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, eventually obtaining evangelical clearance for his past marital misdeeds. Asked if he was having an affair "at the same time as Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky," Gingrich conceded he was but insisted that these simultaneous "escapades," as Dobson called them, were "not related to what happened," making the same point about the difference being perjury, which he called "the very heart of our legal system." Noting that perjury is "very often punished very intently by the courts," Gingrich said he was "aware of this because of the very painful experience" Dobson had raised, namely a divorce. "I had been through depositions," he explained.
Most recently, during an interview with Fox's Chris Wallace this March, Gingrich argued again that the issue wasn't Clinton's "personal behavior," but perjury. "I knew this in particular going through a divorce," he told Wallace. "I had been in depositions. I had been in situations where you had to swear to tell the truth." Calling Clinton a "misogynist" at a closed Republican caucus session shortly before the impeachment and rebuking Republican members who wanted to tone down the graphic sexual charges against the president, Gingrich pushed for impeachment in December 1998, less than five months before he called Marianne Gingrich on Mother's Day, acknowledged he was having an affair, and asked for a divorce.
The detailed record of the first divorce, unearthed recently by Georgia blogger Craig Hardegree and CNN, indicates that Gingrich's deposition was rescheduled from Oct. 20, 1980, to Nov. 10, and then reset again for Jan. 14, 1981. The parties reached an agreement on the divorce on Jan. 31, two weeks after the scheduled deposition. Vassy said: "The deposition was noticed to take place at my office. I don't remember ever taking his deposition. I don't remember anything like that happening at my office. I don't recall taking or being involved in it." Citing the case file as well as his own recollections, Vassy concluded: "There was no deposition."
Unlike the Battley-Gingrich case, the focus of the second divorce was to depose Gingrich's lover, Callista Bisek, who subsequently became his third wife. That was avoided when Gingrich and Marianne reached agreement on Dec. 16, 1999, after a court-ordered mediation that lasted 12 hours. One of the arguments offered to evade Callista's deposition was a Fifth Amendment claim against self-incrimination, with her lawyers asserting that adultery was a crime.