In 1998, Speaker Newt Gingrich traveled to Ireland, where he researched his Irish roots, discussed the prospects for peace in Northern Ireland and even helped build a home in Belfast for a good-will project. Two of the sponsors for the trip were Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
As Newt Gingrich fights to stay in contention against Mitt Romney in the Republican primaries, he has faced many questions about the more than $1.6 million in consulting fees he got from Freddie Mac since leaving Congress in 1999. But records and interviews show that the relationship started years earlier, reports the New York Times.
While on the campaign trail, he has minimized his past connections to the government-backed housing industry giants, records show that, as House leader in the 1990s, Gingrich aligned himself with the two closely related companies on a number of key issues.
Newt Gingrich plays on racial, political and social resentments
Gingrich also worked with Fannie and Freddie on a number of housing projects in the U.S. and abroad, including Ireland.
The visit to a Belfast neighborhood in 1998 to start building a home for a low-income family was part of a foreign extension of an American program called “The House that Congress Built.”
The Belfast project was sponsored principally by Fannie and Freddie, along with Habitat for Humanity and the National Association of Realtors.
Marianne Gingrich, Mr. Gingrich’s wife at the time, joined him in Ireland, as did other members of Congress.
As the trip was considered Congressional business, public money was apparently used for portions of the trip, but the breakdown on the financing, and what part was covered by Fannie and Freddie, could not be determined.
A financial disclosure statement for 1998 that would show gifts and trips provided by outside groups was not filed by Gingrich that year, according to Congressional records, even though House rules appear to require him to have filed a report within 30 days after he left Congress under an ethics cloud in January 1999.
According to the Gingrich campaign, he was invited on the trip by Habitat for Humanity.
“Improving access to home ownership has long been an aim of his public policy,” said the campaign.
Former Gingrich aide Jack Howard said he associated the housing projects more with Habitat for Humanity, a nonpartisan Christian group headquartered in Mr. Gingrich’s home state of Georgia, than with the corporate sponsors Fannie and Freddie.
“It was a feel-good thing,” he said of the projects. “I think Newt probably saw this as just a good opportunity to do something for Habitat for Humanity.”
Gingrich undertook the four day visit to Ireland North and South in 1998 and visited the Inishowen section of Donegal where his ancestors, the Daugherty's came from. The name has various spellings there and is most commonly spelled as Doherty.
The name means ‘the destroyer,’ ironic given that many Republicans feel that is what he is doing to the party by slamming Romney, the likely nominee, at every opportunity.
Gingrich reveled in the name on his Irish visit.
"I've got Scottish MacPherson's in the family tree and they were the last of the Highland clans to concede to the English" said at the time. "my rebelliousness has deep roots."