Reach Out and Embarrass Yourself

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Republicans are sending a letter to Janet Reno asking for an investigation into who taped an embarrassing phone call in which Newt Gingrich appears to have violated an agreement with the House ethics committee, and released a transcript of the conversation to the New York Times. According to the Times, the call was taped by a Florida couple who picked up the call on a police scanner, apparently because at least one of the parties in the conversation was using a cell phone. The Times story showed that on December 21, the same day he admitted to making false statements on his report to the committee, Gingrich conducted a phone call with party leaders to discuss how to deal with the news. The committee allowed Gingrich to call the leaders, but as part of his agreement he was to have no part in shaping strategy on how the matter would be spun in public. Gingrich and his attorney are heard conceding that they are violating the agreement with the committee, discussing the timing of party action on the committee news and at one point discussing language for the statement to be put out by the leadership. Stung by Democrats crying foul, the GOP struck back by pointing out that it was illegal to release the tape. "U.S.C. 119, Section 2511, prohibits the interception and disclosure of wire, oral or electronic communications. In other words, an unauthorized third party recording of a telephonic conversation is a violation of federal law," Republican Whip Tom DeLay wrote in a memo to Reno. "I urge you to pursue this matter with vigilance and due haste." The Justice Department has said it would look into the matter. Department lawyers noted that, in general, federal law requires proof of intent to intercept and disseminate overheard conversations, but said that requirement might be satisfied by the call's tape recording and the subsequent relay of the transcript to the Times.