Another disaster for Newt Gingrich

Newly recovered court files cast doubt on Gingrich version of first divorce

By Alan Duke, CNN1

Carrollton, Georgia (CNN) — Newt Gingrich claims that it was his first wife, not Gingrich himself, who wanted their divorce in 1980, but court documents obtained by CNN appear to show otherwise.

The Republican presidential candidate, now in his third marriage, has been peppered with attacks and questions about his divorce from Jackie Gingrich for the past three decades.

Questions about his past — and what that past tells voters about his personal behavior — have re-emerged as he has returned to the political scene 13 years after he resigned as speaker of the House.

A new defense that has arisen as Gingrich entered the presidential race this year is the insistence that she, not he, wanted the divorce.

Much more at the link. The CNN article continued to note that Mr Gingrich’s campaign website says, concerning his divorce from his first wife:

Asking Wife For Divorce While She Was In The Hospital Dying of Cancer

This story is a vicious lie. It was first reported by a left wing magazine in the 1980s based on hearsay and has survived in left-wing chat rooms on the Internet until today. It is completely false.

Recently, Newt’s daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, wrote a column to set the record straight about this smear. The column reveals that 1) It was her mother that requested the divorce, not Newt, and it was months before the hospital visit in question; 2) Her mother was in the hospital to remove a tumor, but it was benign, and she is still alive today; 3) Newt visited the hospital for the purpose of taking his two children to see their mother, not to discuss a divorce. You can read it here.

The linked article certainly rebuts the notion that Mr Gingrich served his wife with divorce papers while she lay dying in the hospital, and notes that the first Mrs Gingrich is still alive today. However, though it is couched in terms which make the claim that it was his wife who filed for divorce, and not Mr Gingrich, come from Mr Gingrich’s daughter (whose memory from when she was 13 years old could be inaccurate), by citing the article on his campaign website, Mr Gingrich is taking responsibility for the claim himself.

Unfortunately for Mr Gingrich, the documents finally uncovered2 show that it was Newt Gingrich, not Jacqueline Gingrich, who filed for divorce, and that Mrs Gingrich counterfiled, stating, “Defendant shows that she has adequate and ample grounds for divorce, but that she does not desire one at this time.”

There is a lot more at the CNN original, a lot of it pretty smarmy, and much of it sourced from the recollections of individuals who formerly were friends with Mr Gingrich, but no longer are; with such sourcing, your editor takes the position that they constitute gossip and are not properly sourced from a journalistic standard. Court documents, however, are properly sourced material under any reasonable standard of journalism.

Mr Gingrich’s campaign spokesman, R.C. Hammond, e-mailed CNN, and wrote:

Carroll County Georgia court documents accurately show Newt Gingrich filed for a divorce from his wife Jackie Battley, but it was Jackie Battley who requested the divorce.

This statement could very well be true, but if it is true, the Gingrich campaign should have been far more specific in its release of information, and done so before these things were investigated by someone else. Former President George W Bush wrote about what failing to disclose potentially harmful information yourself could cost. In the 2000 campaign. Governor George Bush (R-TX) was leading Vice President Al Gore by four percentage points in the polls five days before the election. Then a New Hampshire reporter dug up the old story of Mr Bush’s driving under the influence of alcohol arrest.

Five days before the election, at a routine campaign stop in Wisconsin, Karen Hughes pulled me aside. We walked into a quiet room and she said, “A reporter in New Hampshire called to ask about the DUI.” My heart sank. Such negative news at the end of a campaign would be explosive.

I had seriously considered disclosing the DUI four years earlier, when I was called for jury duty. the case happened to involve drunk driving. I was excused from the jury because, as governor, I might later have to rule on the defendant’s case as a part of the pardon process. As I walked out of the Austin courthouse, a reporter shouted, “Have you ever been arrested for DUI?” I answered, “I do not have a perfect record as a youth. When I was young, I did a lot of foolish things. But I will tell you this, I urge people not to drink and drive.”

Politically, it would not have been a problem to reveal the DUI that day. The next election was two years away, and I had quit drinking.3

Former President Bush continued to note that Karl Rove estimated that he had lost two million votes due to that late disclosure, from people who either changed their votes or simply stayed home, and that his four point lead evaporated, turning into a dead heat. That dead heat in the opinion polls manifested itself in a very close race for the total popular vote, which Mr Gore won, and in the electoral college, which Mr Bush won by the barest of margins.4 While no one can know for certain what the results would have been had the disclosure not been made when it was, your Editor’s guess is that Mr Bush would have won both the popular and electoral votes rather easily, and there would have been no Florida recount mess. Had Governor Bush simply revealed the bad news four years earlier, it would have all been taken care of early, as part of the wastrel youth description to which he had already admitted; by not disclosing it on his terms, when it would not have been a problem, he turned it into a far more serious problem. The previous presidential campaigns of Gary Hart, Joe Biden and Herman Cain all failed when revelations about things they wished to keep secret surfaced, and it’s a solid lesson for anyone running for President: if you have anything potentially disqualifying in your past, you can count on it not remaining secret.

Mr Gingrich’s campaign had surged after the withdrawal of Herman Cain, but had started to slip in the polls even before the news broke that his campaign had failed to qualify for the primary ballot in Virginia. It was well known that Mr Gingrich was twice-divorced, and he was always having to deal with the served-her-divorce-papers-on-her-hospital-bed rumors, but there is a significant difference from having less than admirable behavior many years in the past, and lying about it in the present. Your Editor believes that Mr Gingrich’s presidential campaign is over.


  1. Alan Duke grew up in Carrollton, Georgia, and began his career covering politics there. He began covering Newt Gingrich during Gingrich’s first campaigns for public office.
  2. The CNN story notes that the previous county Carroll County Court Clerk, Kenneth Skinner, removed the Gingrich divorce records from the public records room around 1994, “‘when he (Gingrich) became the center of attention,’ because Skinner feared tampering and theft.” The records were kept in the clerk’s desk drawer.
  3. George W Bush: Decision Points, (New York: Crown Publishers, c 2010) p. 75-76.
  4. This is simply a statement of fact; as noted in the Comments & Conduct Policy, this is not a subject on which debate will be entertained on this site.

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