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Gingrich Addresses Fiery Crowd In Home District

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AllPolitics, Jan. 25) -- In an emotional appearance before his constituents, Newt Gingrich defended his honor as House Speaker in the face of ethical woes.

"If at some point in your life you make a mistake, saying up front you made a mistake is the only honorable thing you can do," Gingrich, a Republican of Georgia, told supporters at one of a series of town hall meetings this weekend.

But he complained that there appears to be one ethical standard for liberals and another for conservatives.

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"You can on the left do anything you want and nobody seems to notice," Gingrich said. (191K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Gingrich, in his first public comments since the House voted a reprimand and a $300,000 penalty Tuesday, said he had made a mistake by trusting his lawyers to guide him safely through the complex congressional code of conduct.

"I trusted the law firm to have done the job right. They didn't do the job right and I didn't catch them," the 53- year-old speaker said.

Some 1,000 people attended the first two meetings in Roswell and Marietta, which were marked by raucous exchanges between supporters and critics of the controversial speaker.

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One speaker drew a chorus of boos when he said that Gingrich should pay the fine out of his pocket. (121K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

And he bristled at another constituent's suggestion that the penalty could be considered a "fine" for intentionally deceiving Congress. Instead, he said he had agreed only to being careless.

"There was no suggestion of intent to deceive. A mistake had been made. That is the total of what I agreed to," on the report by the House ethics committee, he said.

He added that he would never have accepted the six-figure penalty if it had been described as a "fine."

Gingrich said the media was partly responsible for his ethics troubles, and accused Democrats of trying to keep public attention on his problems in order to avoid talking about the "things that really matter," namely the Republican legislative agenda.

He proposed that penalties be levied against members of Congress who file frivolous ethics charges against their colleagues -- with triple damages levied against those found to be "repetitively and maliciously" calling their colleagues on the carpet.

"David Bonior [Democratic representative of Mich.] and his friends have filed some 70 false charges. How much have they cost the taxpayers?" Gingrich said.

CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.


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