December 18, 2011. Washington. Earlier this week, an independent journalist released documents and information concerning a secret FBI investigation into former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Suspected of selling his votes and influence as Speaker of the House, the FBI followed, wire-tapped and spied on Mr. Gingrich until 1997 when they abruptly ceased their investigation. Declaring the investigation was stopped because there was no evidence of wrong-doing by the former Speaker, the FBI’s details of the case leave many wondering if there may have been other reasons.
Newt and Marianne Gingrich. The couple divorced in 1999. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.
The FBI sting operation centered around Newt Gingrich’s then-wife Marianne. “There are so many falsehoods” Marianne told reporters two days ago when asked about the investigation of her, “The FBI should have been protecting me, not going after me. This is scary stuff.” Newt Gingrich, Republican candidate for President, had no comment.
The arms smuggler
Armenian arms smuggler Sarkis Soghanalian’s journey in the case began in the early 90’s when Federal authorities in Miami arrested and charged him with illegally smuggling helicopters into Iraq. Soghanalian was sentenced to six and a half years in Federal prison. That sentence was reduced by two-thirds in exchange for Soghanalian’s agreement to go to work for the FBI as an undercover informant.
In 1995, and not long after his release from custody, Soghanalian was approached by officers from the Israel Export Development Corporation. While the specifics vary, all parties concerned agree that the 1995 meeting in Paris was requested by members of the IEDC for the express purpose of extracting money from Soghanalian. In attendance at the meeting were convicted weapons trafficker Sarkis Soghanalian, Marianne Gingrich who was Vice President of the Israel Export Development Corp., her boss Howard Ash and Miami used car salesman Morty Bennett.
According to recordings and details obtained by the FBI informant, Soghanalian was trying to find a way to get the United States to lift its arms embargo against Iraq. The Iraqi military owed Sarkis Soghanalian $80 million from previous sales to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Mrs. Gingrich’s account varies drastically. She insists they requested the meeting to attempt to convince Soghanalian to finance the efforts of the IEDC.
Soghanalian told the FBI that during the three-day Paris meeting with Marianne Gingrich, the Speaker’s wife assured him that for a payment of $10 million, she could have her husband Newt Gingrich arrange anything Soghanalian wanted. According to the FBI file, Mrs. Gingrich told Soghanalian that “she would be able to do anything [Soghanalian] requested of her as long as they had an understanding.” Soghanalian also quotes the former Speaker’s ex-wife as explaining that her marriage to Newt Gingrich was nothing more than a business agreement. She needed him for money and he needed her to keep her mouth shut about his many secret “skeletons”. Immediately after the Paris meeting, Federal authorities received approval from the highest levels of government to wire-tap House Speaker Gingrich, the man third in line for the office of the President.
Meeting number two
A few months after their initial meeting in Paris, the Miami used car salesman Morty Bennett, who was also at the initial meeting in Paris, approached Soghanalian to give the arms dealer an update on his request of the Gingrich’s. Unbeknownst to Bennett, who claimed to be there on behalf of Mrs. Gingrich, Sarkis Soghanalian and the FBI were recording their meeting.
According to the recording, Morty Bennett assured Soghanalian that the Gingrich’s would have the arms embargo against Iraq lifted, in exchanged for the previously agreed upon payment of $10 million. Bennett even went so far as to explain to Soghanalian that $5 million was going to Mrs. Gingrich, while the other $5 million would go to the Speaker and any other Congressional leaders who’s support might be needed.
Per Morty Bennett’s instructions, Soghanalian was to delivery to Bennett $300,000 in cash and an upfront payment of $1 million that was to be wired to the account of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. The IASPS is another Israeli organization with dual offices in Washington. Along with being the chief executive at the Israel Export Development Corporation, Howard Ash was also employed by the IASPS. The remaining $9 million was to be transferred to Morty Bennett’s bank account where he would then forward it to the IASPS.
A few months later, the final details of the $10 million dollar bribe were falling into place. Knowing that the key to catching Speaker Gingrich in the act was his wife Marianne, the FBI and Soghanalian told middleman Morty Bennett that a meeting or at the very least, a phone conversation, was needed between Soghanalian and Mrs. Gingrich before the arms smuggler would turn over that enormous amount of money. He claimed he wanted reassurances from the source herself. Bennett agreed, but insisted that nothing regarding the secret and illegal deal could be discussed. To confirm the deal was still on, Marianne would call and the two would discuss their previous ‘vacation’ in Paris.
The FBI got a break when instead of a coded phone call, it was agreed by both parties that Mrs. Gingrich would meet with Soghanalian during a fundraiser in Miami arranged by Ben Waldman, a Reagan administration official and business partner of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Investigation called off
Just prior to the FBI’s sting of the Waldman fundraiser where they would record Marianne Gingrich finalizing the bribe details, FBI Deputy Director Neil Gallagher ordered the investigation closed. When asked two days ago about his sudden and unexplained move to protect the Gingriches, Gallagher refused comment and referred all questions to the FBI.
FBI collective amnesia
Paul Philip, had FBI official in Miami at the time and the man who personally signed-off on killing the investigation, couldn’t recall any details of the case when asked about it by the Washington Post on Thursday. According to the Post’s report, when shown the documents from the Gingrich case, along with his signature on the order ceasing the investigation, he said ‘he couldn’t understand why the case did not progress’.
The official line
When interviewed two days ago about the breaking story, Bennett bluntly told the Washington Post, “I knew somebody and introduced them to somebody and that was it. Thank you for calling, and don’t call me back.” Sarkis Soghanalian however, passed away two months ago at the age of 82. Before he died though, he gave numerous interviews to independent journalist and the person responsible for breaking this story on Thursday, Joseph Trento. Trento publishes the website DCBureau.org. It was those interviews that formed much of the details of this recap. The remainder is provided by actual FBI documents and recordings.
According to a statement to the Washington Post by an unnamed source within the FBI who’s familiar with the case, the investigation was stopped because the Bureau couldn’t find any evidence that Speaker Newt Gingrich had first-hand involvement in the scheme. According to the source, “There wasn’t any direct evidence that he knew anything. The rules are you just can’t go in there and do an integrity check on someone.”
While FBI spokesmen, and media outlets alike, explain that there simply wasn’t any credible evidence to continue the investigation, Soghanalian went to his grave disagreeing with that assertion. And now in 2011 with the full details of the investigation into the Gingriches coming to light, Soghanalian’s story can finally be told.