The IRS did not exonerate Gingrich -- it dealt only with the foundation itself -- nor did it address the merits of the House ethics violations case that resulted in the fine. But the ruling did support Gingrich's long-standing claim that the course was a legitimate, nonpartisan academic endeavor. In any normal political period, the IRS ruling would have been headline news, most ardently trumpeted by Gingrich and his allies. But "that was three scandals ago," says TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson, "and besides, Gingrich no longer holds power." Nevertheless, the IRS ruling will go a long way "to remove the taint of the ethics controversy and serve as a significant post-career vindication for him," says TIME Washington correspondent Karen Tumulty. Or it would, if anyone were paying attention.
Hardly anyone noticed when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received a vindication of sorts this week. The Internal Revenue Service concluded that the tax-exempt Progress and Freedom Foundation had not broken any tax laws when it helped sponsor a Gingrich college course. The course, as you've probably forgotten, was at the center of the ethics controversy that resulted in a $300,000 fine against Gingrich in 1997.