OTR Interviews

Gingrich: I Never Lobbied for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac While Holding Public Office

GOP presidential candidate reflects on surge in new polls, takes on Fannie & Freddie Mac bonuses, Solyndra, 'Occupy Wall Street' and more

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 17, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, well, there's a new frontrunner, and he is here. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich joins us. Good evening, Mr. Speaker.

NEWT GINGRICH, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE/FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Good evening. It's good to be with you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let's talk about some news that I think you probably will find very good news tonight. The Rasmussen poll in the state of Iowa, where the first caucuses -- or where the caucuses come January 3rd -- you now lead, 32 percent to 19 percent for Governor Romney, 13 percent for Mr. Cain and 10 percent for Congressman Paul. Thirty-two percent -- what do you attribute that jump to?

GINGRICH: I think a lot of people have been looking for substance. I think they have been looking for solutions as big as 9 percent unemployment, solutions as big as $2 trillion annual deficits. And my sense was that in the last couple of debates, people sort of checked off and began saying to each other, Gee, you know, I think Newt has the right ideas.

And as they went to Newt.org and looked at our "21st Century Contract With America," I think they began to think maybe, having done it before in the 1990s with four balanced budgets and Welfare reform and bringing unemployment down from 5.6 to 4.2 percent -- maybe Newt Gingrich actually (INAUDIBLE) has the right solutions and the right experience to do it. And I think that conversation has made a difference.

We just spent the last three days in Iowa, and we certainly got the feeling going around the state that there was a very significant consolidation towards my campaign. I'm here in Jacksonville, where we had a huge rally this afternoon with the First Coast Tea Party people. And it frankly felt like October of an election year. The amount of energy, the number of people, the excitement was much more like October than it was like a year before.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it sounds like at least there's some wind behind your back right now because there are at least some reports that 18 staffers have rejoined your campaign, including six in the state of Iowa. So things are looking really good right now.

Of course, that means, of course, now the tough scrutiny, which brings me to another issue. I want you to explain this to me because I don't fully understand it. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, that you -- Gingrich Productions, or Gingrich Group, rather, received a significant amount of money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Tell me, first of all, how much money was it?

GINGRICH: Well, I'm not sure of the exact amount, but the reports are it's about $1.6 million. We were trying to work that out. I just don't have the numbers in the campaign because I'm no longer at Gingrich Group.

It was only from Freddie Mac. We never got anything from Fannie Mae. It was over a number of years. I think it started in 1999 and ran up into I think 2007 or 2008. So you'd have to -- we're trying to pull that together. And I think that we'll have that information probably by tomorrow. But we've asked the people at the Center for Transformation who run Gingrich Group to pull all that together. But it's money paid out over a period of time.

Gingrich Group has had as many as 30 employees at any one time. We've had offices in Atlanta, where the headquarters are, in Washington and in St. Louis, Missouri. It has -- with the Center for Health Transformation, it acquired a very large number of members. And I think that the Freddie Mac payments were actually a relatively small percentage of the total income of Gingrich Group over the last 10 or 11 years.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I'll be interested to see those numbers because, I mean, I've run a business. I know you have to pay overhead. I know you have to pay rent. I know that, you know, the money -- it sometimes looks very different, what you end up with in your pocket than what goes into the group.

Now, in spite of that, it's -- I'm trying to understand this. Was the contract during the time of 2007 when we went into a tailspin in the housing market? So did it extend as far as that point?

GINGRICH: To the best of my knowledge, it ended about the time that we were going into a tailspin, but I'd have to go back. I can't give you an exact date. It was clear by that stage that what you had was a giant bubble because you had loan requirements that had collapsed to a point of absurdity, where people could get mortgages who had, you know, no credit history, no down payment, et cetera.

And having been a professor of history and somebody who had actually looked at economic history over time, it was very clear that this was a bubble that was developing that had bad consequences. I've had a long period of being concerned about housing. Jack Kemp and I worked on housing issues back in the '80s. I supported Rick Lazio strongly when we were in charge of the Congress and he passed a housing reform bill.

I believe that there are conservative, practical ways to help relatively poor people get into housing, it's not by giving them mortgages that they can't pay. It's by teaching them how to budget, teaching them how to take care of a home. I did a lot of work when I was speaker with Habitat for Humanity, which works really well because the people who get the house actually help build it, so they have a real investment and a real interest in their own home.

So my interest in housing and my interest in helping relatively poor Americans have a chance to buy a house is very real and goes back a long way. I was approached to offer strategic advice.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me...

GINGRICH: I do no lobbying of any kind. I never have. A very important point I want to make. I have never done lobbying of any kind.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. OK. All right, a couple questions (INAUDIBLE) because I'm trying to understand exactly what strategic advice is, you know, because a lot of people made an awful lot of money off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I know you said that you only worked for Freddie Mac. So you know, there's good reason for people to be sort of -- you know, be prying and trying to find out exactly what this is. And especially in the '90s, people were really making -- were stuffing their pockets full of cash.

All right. You say that you were providing strategic advice. What does that mean? What did you do?

GINGRICH: Well, I'll give you two general examples. There's some confidentiality agreements and it's been broken a little bit on both -- by both of them and by us because I answered a question probably more bluntly than I should have in the debate without having checked with my lawyers, which is something you don't do in the middle of debates.

But let me just say, as an example, there's a whole issue about whether or not government-sponsored enterprises have any legitimacy. Well, I can tell you as a historian they have been used in a variety of ways over all of American history. There are times they've been very, very useful and very valuable.

And so part of the question was, Can you make that case? Can you put in context the history of these institutions? The other one I just gave you. Is there a conservative path that helps people learn how to budget...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it -- but...

GINGRICH: ... helps them learn how to take care of a house? So they'd come and say, How would you approach these kind of issues? How would you talk about these kind of issues?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so these were the questions they would go to you and you would sit down and answer? Is that how it worked? I mean, it's, like -- I'm trying to understand, like, you know, what was...

GINGRICH: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the quid pro quo? I mean, how often did you talk to them?

GINGRICH: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: Did they come to...

GINGRICH: ... there were two things...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... your office? Did you go to them?

GINGRICH: I think less than maybe once a month, they would drop by. We'd spend an hour. It would always start with me listening. I'd always say, What are you trying to solve? What are your concerns? What are you trying to get done?

And I've done this with many, many clients. I mean, it's not at all unusual for us to have folks to come in and say, This is what we're trying to get done, this is how we're trying to solve a wide range of problems. Many of them involved health. As you know, we founded -- out of Gingrich Group, we founded the Center for Health Transformation. And we ended up publishing books. We ended up with a whole range of things.

So I'm very proud of what we've done. You know, the fact is, I helped run four small businesses during the period when I was out of office before I ran for president. I have a pretty good idea of what it's like to be a business person and to meet a payroll and to find clients and to make sure that you're actually delivering value so the clients decide to stay with you.

And the value we delivered consistently was listening to people, offering them strategic advice, developing positive public policy positions with a very simple ground rule. I believe what I believe based on a very long period of life. If you'd like to come and have my advice, that's fine. I don't change any of my beliefs because somebody drops by and wants to pay me. I have no reason to.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in terms of Freddie Mac, though, did you spot what was coming in terms of the housing industry crisis? Did you tell them, you know, Look, you know, this is a real problem? You know, this is about to blow up on the nation. Did you see that coming?

GINGRICH: No.

VAN SUSTEREN: And did you warn them?

GINGRICH: Look, you could see in conversations, particularly by 2007, that the loan standards were becoming absurd. That was just -- that was patently obvious. What you couldn't see was that the Federal Reserve would tighten up in a way that you suddenly had a huge credit crunch. And I think that's a very different part of the problem.

I don't think anybody, whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve or the Council of Economic Advisers or other folks -- there were very few people who saw the intensity of the housing problem as it broke loose.

There were some people. Peter Wallace is a good example at the American Enterprise Institute, who had for a long time been warning that these government-sponsored enterprises were too big, that they were too overleveraged and that they need to be reformed. And Peter Wallace is probably as good an analyst today of what needs to be done now to repair the system and to get out of the mess we're in as anybody I know. But he was a relatively rare voice in that period.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, compare and contrast the difference -- you received money, or Gingrich Group received money for strategic advice. You've also been very critical of President Obama receiving substantial amounts of money from Fannie Mae -- Fannie and Freddie contributions from the executives in 2008. You've said it on Hannity's show and you've said it to me here on "On the Record."

What is the difference between the criticism you've made of President Obama getting substantial campaign contributions to help Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- or maybe not to help them, but -- and what you did?

GINGRICH: Well, the difference is that under the leadership of Barney Frank and Chris Dodd in the Congress and of the president, those institutions have gotten $156 billion of taxpayers' money.

I was a private citizen. I didn't -- I was not involved in doing any of these things, and I wasn't involved -- and in fact, if you go back and ask Congressman Rick Lazio, when he brought up the housing reform bill in 1996, I strongly backed him in reforming housing.

As he sent me a note yesterday, at no time did I mention Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to him or bring any kind of involvement to him to do anything along that line. I was very supportive of housing reform.

So there's a huge difference between what you do when you're in public office and you're dealing with the public trust and what you do as a private business person who has no direct power and no direct responsibility and you're sitting there offering advice.

I was being paid to offer a series of -- and I did this, as I said a while ago, at a number of companies who would come in and ask for advice on a wide range of things. And as long as they were topics that I was interested in and topics that I cared about, I was very happy to share ideas with people.

What I didn't do and would not do is I didn't go and lobby the Congress. I didn't go and lobby the executive branch. I didn't try to represent any position I didn't believe in beforehand. And I think that's a very big difference between being a lobbyist and being a strategic consultant.

VAN SUSTEREN: I suppose you've seen that Congressman Barney Frank has taken some tough swipes at you in the last day or two. You smile.

GINGRICH: Well, of course, he has. Look, Barney Frank...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you say that? I mean, why do you say "of course he has"?

GINGRICH: Barney Frank -- Barney Frank doesn't believe in the business community. He doesn't believe in the private sector. He thinks everything is the same. So he thinks that what he does as a congressman in charge of writing a bill is the same as what a private citizen does, and vice versa. And it just tells you how far to the left Barney Frank's thinking is.

I don't think he has a clue what it's like to run a normal business or to meet a payroll or to be out in the marketplace doing things that people normally do.

But if you check -- and you know this, Greta, because you've been in this business. If you check around for people who do strategic planning for corporations, people who offer long-range thinking and long-range advice, our fees were in the mid-range of what people charge around this country to large corporations to help them think about their challenges, and in fact, maybe slightly below the mid-range when you talk about the really biggest corporations in America.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, switch topics. Occupy Wall Street -- there is -- you know, a lot of the dissension today or the last 24, 36 hours. If you were president, would you make a statement about Occupy Wall Street? Would you recommend anything?

GINGRICH: Sure. I would recommend that every mayor in the United States enforce the law. There is no justification for violence. There's no justification for tearing up private property. There's no justification for blocking the streets and harassing innocent citizens.

I think it's one thing to have the right of free speech. No one has the right to be a mob and no one has the right to go out and destroy property. And I think that the -- that Mayor Bloomberg and others should protect the rights of innocent citizens from thugs and mob-like people who engaged in vandalism and engaged in threats that are totally inappropriate in a free society.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where does this go? What do you expect is going to happen in the next day or two?

GINGRICH: The police will eventually have to arrest them. They will provoke and provoke until there's no choice, and the police will arrest them. And the question is, how many innocent people will be hurt, how much innocent property will be destroyed, how much damage will they do to the society at large.

I mean, there's no justification -- you know, the Tea Party's met in huge numbers. And we did this today down here with the First Coast Tea Party, hundreds and hundreds of people. They picked up the trash. They were orderly. They were positive. They were there as citizens, not as mobs.

The gap between the way Occupy Wall Street has degenerated into an anti-civilization, anti-law kind of group, and the way in which the Tea Partiers were trying to understand and study American history -- it's a startling contrast between the two groups.

VAN SUSTEREN: Speaker Gingrich, thank you. I hope you'll come back.

GINGRICH: Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's going to be an interesting -- interesting race. Thank you, sir.

GINGRICH: It's going to be fun. Thank you.