On October 5, Sarkis Soghanalian, once the world’s largest private arms dealer, died at 82. He had sold weapons to scores of dictators including Saddam Hussein, and he took many secrets with him to his grave. But one secret he did not take involves Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. DCBureau has learned that Gingrich was at the center of a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation in the late 1990s for a scheme to shake down the arms dealer for a $10 million bribe in exchange for Gingrich using his influence as Speaker to get the Iraq arms embargo lifted so Soghanalian could collect $54 million from Saddam Hussein’s regime for weapons he had delivered during the Iran-Iraq War.
Soghanalian was an FBI informant and was responsible for launching one of the most sensitive and secret investigations in FBI history involving the former Speaker and his second wife. According to Marianne Gingrich, it took the direct intervention of then FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to “get the investigation called off.” Freeh did not return emails and telephone calls for comment.
Former FBI Director Louis FreehA convicted felon with a long history of working with United States intelligence, Soghanalian cooperated with the FBI in the two-year investigation which included secretly taping emissaries with connections to Newt and Marianne Gingrich. The cast of characters include personalities no Hollywood screenwriter could invent. One participant was involved in the Florida SunCruz scandal that resulted in the gangland-style killing of one of the cruise lines owners. Another was a used Rolls Royce salesman who pretended to be part of the international arms trade. A third was a penny stock promoter.
For several years, FBI agents instructed Soghanalian to get beyond the men who claimed to have ties to Gingrich and insist upon meeting with Gingrich and his former wife directly to prove that they could deliver the Speaker. But just before Soghanalian was to meet Gingrich and his former wife at a private Miami Beach fundraiser on June 8, 1997, arranged by one of these men, FBI headquarters called off the investigation. Washington ordered the FBI in Miami not to secretly tape record the fundraiser and to stop Soghanalian from attending. Marianne Gingrich, in a series of telephone interviews from her homes in Georgia and Florida, acknowledges meeting the arms dealer in Paris but insists her participation was to solicit an investment from Soghanalian for her former employer, the Israel Export Development Corporation (IEDC). She says the company was running short on cash and her meetings with the arms dealer had nothing to do with Iraq and arms dealing. Newt Gingrich did not return repeated telephone calls for comment.
Soghanalian said in a series of interviews before his death that men associated with Marianne Gingrich convinced him that Speaker Gingrich would use his influence to lift the embargo and allow Soghanalian to collect the millions of dollars owed to him by Iraq “in exchange for a $10 million payment to Gingrich through his associates.” Soghanalian was to pay the money – not to the Gingriches directly – but through a think tank, The Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies (IASPS), which has offices in the United States and Israel.
Saddam Hussein’s government owed Soghanalian for arms he had delivered – all with the permission and knowledge of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, but he could not be paid because Iraq was under a U.S. and United Nations embargoes. After his release from prison in the mid-1990s, Soghanalian settled in Paris and started rebuilding his arms business. In the United States he faced a $54 million IRS tax lien for profits he had never received from the Iraq arms sales. He told associates that he was trying to figure out a way to collect the monies owed to him. One of those friends was a London-based Kurdish Iraqi who had close contacts with Israeli intelligence and a car salesman from Miami named Morty Bennett.
Bennett saw Soghanalian’s money problems as an opportunity. He says he passed the information from his Kurdish friend to Howard Ash, a friend from the Rolls Royce dealership in Miami where Bennett worked. Ash was a fundraiser for the IASPS, the think tank, and had worked at the IEDC with Marianne Gingrich.
In May 1995, while visiting his wife, Shirley, and his grandchildren in Palm Springs, California, Soghanalian got a phone call from Bennett. Soghanalian had never heard of him before, but Bennett says he used the name of their mutual acquaintance in London who had experience in the Kurdish arms trade to get Soghanalian to talk to him. Soghanalian said before his death, “My ears perked up when he said he had an arms deal for me in Ecuador. There are a lot of pretenders in the business, but he seemed interesting, and I always need new information for my FBI friends, so I met with him.”
That May 1995 phone call from Bennett to Soghanalian resulted in a two-year FBI investigation so sensitive that details have never before been made public. The goal of the investigation, according to a Justice Department official, “…was to see if Gingrich, through his then wife, was involved in an attempt by political associates to solicit bribes.” One of the team of FBI agents involved in the case says, “The investigation was called off before we were permitted to finish making a case.” Another agent says it was just “too politically sensitive. We got so close and when the target was in sight, we were stopped by Washington.”
According to Bennett, the entire scheme to solicit $10 million dollars from the arms dealer was Howard Ash’s idea. Ash did not return repeated calls for comment left on his answering machine or with a woman who identified herself as his employee.
Soghanalian said of when he and Bennett met, “Bennett claimed that he and a partner named Howard Ash had an ‘in’ with Speaker Newt Gingrich on behalf of the Israelis…They asked me if I would invest with them in the deal.” The “in” that Bennett and Ash had was Gingrich’s then wife Marianne. In addition to being a fundraiser for the IASPS, Ash was also Marianne Gingrich’s boss at the Israel Export Development Corporation (IEDC). Soghanalian said, “Bennett told me they just hired her before Newt was made the Speaker.” In early 1995, Marianne Gingrich says, she was promoted above Ash to Vice President of Marketing. “He resented my promotion,” she says.
Robert Loewenberg, Head of the IASPS.Marianne Gingrich says her boss at the IEDC, David Yerushalmi, called and asked her to make the trip to Paris. Yerushalmi served as counsel to both the IEDC and the IASPS. She says that by this time the IEDC was running out of money and she was no longer on the payroll. “David told me that Howard Ash and his wife had been at the Parc Monceau Hotel in Paris for days and still did not have an answer from this arms dealer and that Ash said he needed me to come to get an answer. He paid for my expenses and even though it was at an inconvenient time, I made the trip.” She says she thought the meeting was to win Soghanalian over as an investor in the IEDC. When asked why she would be willing to meet Soghanalian, a convicted felon, when she was no longer being paid by the IEDC, she says because her friend, Robert J. Loewenberg, the head of the IASPS, and her former boss at the IEDC, David Yerushalmi, “wanted me to meet with the arms dealer in Paris as a potential investor. …I believed that Robert Loewenberg had good ideas about free trade in Israel and this would help keep it going.”
David YerushalmiMarianne Gingrich says she did not have a good relationship with Ash after she was promoted over him. She says, “He (Ash) really wanted me in Paris, and I thought that was a little strange. He just never had been very nice to me…but he was nice in Paris.” David Yerushalmi, who says he hired both Mrs. Gingrich and Ash, disputes Mrs. Gingrich’s allegation that there was tension between them.
As Marianne Gingrich tells it, she did not expect her job back at the IEDC if Soghanalian made the $10 million investment because she was already too busy “working with Newt on his book projects. I let him attend a meeting by himself on one of the book deals, and he left more money in that meeting than I would have made in a year working at the export zone. I decided then and there Newt needed me to handle these things.”
Mrs. Gingrich made clear that throughout their marriage money was an issue. “We were so pressed he could not even set aside money for congressional retirement until 1991. Living on his paycheck was very, very hard… Newt was like a child when it came to handling money,” she says.
Morty Bennett says he was also in Paris for the meetings with Soghanalian, Mrs. Gingrich, Howard Ash and his wife. As Bennett tells it, he began to “feel uncomfortable with what Ash was trying to do with Sarkis. My antennae should have been sharper.”
Hotel Mermoz, ParisBennett stayed at the Hotel Mermoz, which is around the corner from the Israeli Embassy in Paris and was a few blocks from Soghanalian’s luxury apartment on one of the most fashionable residential areas in Paris, not far from the Elysees Palace, home of the French president.
Bennett says that while he was at the hotel between meetings with Soghanalian, the Mermoz manager called him saying a man was asking whether Mrs. Gingrich was staying in his room. “I got on the phone and the man was Newt Gingrich. I explained to him she was not staying at my hotel.”
According to Mrs. Gingrich, her interest in Israel began on an eight day trip to Israel she and her then husband took in August 1994, paid for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel’s largest Washington, D.C. lobbying organization. Mrs. Gingrich says Robert Loewenberg, the president of IASPS, was impressed with “my knowledge of planning and asked me to attend some meetings in Israel regarding the free trade zone.” She says that led to her being offered the position with IEDC. “Robert Loewenberg was telling me about some of the problems with the Knesset. The head of the Israeli central bank was opposing the free trade zone. I looked on the itinerary, and I went with him to a meeting and asked some good questions and the banker changed his mind. It had nothing to do with Newt. I went to the meeting. The guy kept calling me. He didn’t care about Newt. At one point he asked me to make a trip to Israel with some business people.” After the meetings in Israel with Loewenberg, the IEDC hired Mrs. Gingrich. She says that one of the reasons she took the job was “we did not have enough money. Money was always an issue with Newt…”
According to David Yerushalmi, there was no connection between IASPS, the think tank, and IEDC, the organization working for a free trade zone in Israel. But Mrs. Gingrich tells a different story. She says, “The same American Jewish funders supported both organizations and Howard Ash raised money for IASPS while he worked for the IEDC.”
A group of very wealthy Americans provided the funding for IASPS and IEDC. Both organizations shared some employees. David Yerushalmi, who represented both organizations as general counsel, wrote in an article:
“In June of 1992, a group of leading U.S. Jewish businessmen formed a company that was to become the Israel Export Development Company (IEDC). The founders of IEDC, men like Robert Tishman, Larry Tisch, Sy Syms and Larry Silverstein, were ardent supporters of the State of Israel. But like many Americans, they were leery of investing directly in Israel. However, it was their fears that made them ready to support the rather grandiose proposal embodied in IEDC’s mandate… To contemplate a real direct investment in Israel was not in the cards. The reason was simple: Israel didn’t play by any fixed rules…It was a land without any real legal protections or level playing fields. The horror stories by these men and their friends about ‘doing business’ in Israel were legion. Until IEDC came along, this was a nasty truth better kept under wraps and avoided. Philanthropy – yes; entrepreneurship – no.”
Sarkis Soghanalian and assistant Veronique Paquier the Paris air show.In Paris, Soghanalian openly and frequently talked about finding a way to get the Iraq embargo lifted. He said he had been approached by “people connected to Newt Gingrich who were setting up a meeting with his wife to talk about what could be done for me.” Tony Khater, who was Soghanalian’s majordomo, confirmed the plans for the meeting with the Speaker’s wife.
Soghanalian said Howard Ash had brought up Mrs. Gingrich’s name “to convince me they were serious.” Soghanalian said he called a number of people to try to find out if the IEDC was a legitimate operation.
New York developer Larry Silverstein, who is best known as the main lease holder on the World Trade Center complex in New York, backed both the IASPS and IEDC. When word got out in 1995 that the IEDC had hired Mrs. Gingrich, Silverstein told The Wall Street Journal that her husband was one of several members of Congress heavily lobbied to support the Israeli free trade zone proposal. Mrs. Gingrich, who had no experience in international trade, said at the time, “If I were going to get a political payoff, it would not be for the amount of money I am making.” She said her salary in August 1994 was $2,500 per month, “plus commissions.” Then Speaker Gingrich told The Baltimore Sun, which broke the story of Marianne’s employment, that his wife had previously owned her “own business.”
In a recent interview, Marianne Gingrich says she got the job at the IEDC because she had impressed her bosses. “I was able to contact a lot of business people, and I started calling them, especially Jewish people. I went to the head of Home Depot, for example. I tried to identify them and say, ‘Here are opportunities.’ The Jewish community is an incredible community…I thought it was a good idea…I thought it would help Israel.”
Calls to Larry Silverstein’s office for comment on this story were not returned.
No one involved with the IASPS or IEDC knew that after that first telephone call from Morty Bennett to Soghanalian, the arms dealer stopped by the Miami FBI office to see his old friend, Richard Gregorie, an assistant U.S. attorney. Gregorie, a veteran public corruption prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office, had used Soghanalian as a source for years.
Sarkis Soghanalian and Tony Khater in a helicopter over Iraq, 1984.At the time, Soghanalian had been helping the FBI with several investigations that were unrelated to this one. Soghanalian told Gregorie and several FBI agents that he had a “bad feeling” about why he had been approached. The agents advised him “to make arrangements for another meeting and to keep track of all the details.” Tony Khater, Soghanalian’s top aide, says, “The FBI was aware of every contact Sarkis had with these people. The FBI told Sarkis to push for meetings with Gingrich and his wife. The FBI instructed Sarkis to attend the meetings, if they could be arranged.”
Morty Bennett and Soghanalian met with Howard Ash and Marianne Gingrich in Paris in July 1995. Soghanalian was extremely busy with business generated by the recent Paris Air Show, but he tape recorded the conversations with Bennett and Ash and provided copies of those tapes to the FBI.
Mrs. Gingrich says Loewenberg and Yerushalmi sent her on the trip to meet Soghanalian because “Howard Ash has been over there for weeks. His wife is over there. Can we wait it out, can we work it? The company needed money to last. They called me up and asked me to go over there. I didn’t get paid to go to Paris. They paid for my expenses, but the trip came at a bad time for me. I had to rush over for the weekend and come back because my nephew was coming to visit.”
Soghanalian said, “Marianne came one weekend with Ash and met me and Bennett. I took her to clubs and we had several dinners and luncheons.” In interviews in Paris in 1995, Soghanalian said that he was “making arrangements to get the arms embargo lifted” and that is why he was meeting with Mrs. Gingrich.
A frustrated Marianne Gingrich says it became clear to her from her initial conversations with Soghanalian in Paris that he was not interested in investing in the IEDC. “…Howard Ash and his wife had been there a long time, and my bosses wanted an answer from him. My job was to get him to say, ‘Yes,’ or, ‘No,’ and that was not easy.”
Soghanalian, a popular figure in Paris, took Mrs. Gingrich and her associates to legendary places like Regine’s and several famous restaurants where they posed for photographs with the arms dealer. Finally, Mrs. Gingrich got an answer. “The last night all of us went somewhere till two or three in the morning…It was final. He said, ‘No.’ I caught the first flight out in the morning.”
Soghanalian had a different version of events. He said that he told Ash and Mrs. Gingrich that he would talk to the Iraqis about making an investment in the free trade operation but that he would not personally invest. “I told them this may be a way of getting my money out of Iraq and doing something good for Israel…I also told Marianne I wanted to meet her husband so we could discuss a high speed train opportunity in Florida.”
Around this same time in 1995, Bennett and Ash were involved in a bizarre penny stock scheme. According to an article in the Sun Sentinel, their connection to the IEDC was used to drive up investor interest in a penny stock being promoted by a couple who called themselves Eisenhowers and held themselves out to be relatives of former President Dwight Eisenhower. Bennett, the car salesman, was described to the business press and potential investors as an Israeli consultant while Ash verified claims that the penny-stock company, Triangle Technology, had a deal to build in the IEDC’s free trade zone in Israel a $40 million dollar factory to revolutionize military aircraft x-ray inspections. Marianne Gingrich’s – as well as the very rich businessmen like Larry Silverstein’s – involvement in the IEDC was also used to reassure potential investors in the penny stock scheme. These claims and associations caused the penny stock to soar before the entire venture collapsed and many investors were left with worthless stock.
Because of changes in Israeli tax law, the free trade zone effort lost its investment appeal and the IEDC shut down. But, Morty Bennett says, “Ash still wanted me to push Sarkis. He told me to call him again.”
As Bennett tells it, on January 23, 1996, Ash instructed him to call Soghanalian at his Miami horse farm with a surprising bit of news. Bennett said to the arms dealer that Marianne Gingrich had told him the Iraq embargo could now be lifted. According to the FBI memo, “Bennett stated that it would cost the source [Soghanalian] ten million dollars to get the job done.” Bennett confirms that the FBI memo is an accurate description of what he told Soghanalian. Bennett says that Howard Ash promised him $400,000 if Sarkis made the $10 million payment.
According to Tony Khater, that is when the FBI sting operation went into high gear. That week Miami agents began officially taping conversations between Soghanalian and Bennett. The Miami office received approval for the wiretaps from the Justice Department in Washington. In its memo on the case, the FBI says: “…This matter may relate to a member of Congress and is, therefore, a sensitive investigation… [that] requires Department of Justice (DOJ) notification.”
The first official FBI tape captured Bennett telling Soghanalian that “Gingrich wanted ten million dollars to get the job done.” The split would be “$5 million for her, $4 million for unexplained purposes and $1 million for Mr. Bennett,” according to the FBI memo. Bennett asked Soghanalian for $550,000 in advance.
Bennett says, “I was operating under explicit instructions from Howard Ash. He told me exactly what to tell Sarkis in my conversations with him.”
Soghanalian became even more suspicious when Bennett asked him to deposit $250,000 into his bank account as a tax-deductible donation to the IASPS. “I began to think they were getting me involved in some Israeli intelligence operation,” Soghanalian said. He told the FBI that Bennett asked for an additional $300,000 fee, “preferably… in cash.”
Vin WeberThe IASPS was founded in 1984, according to its website, and has strong ties to conservative politicians in Israel and the United States. It is connected to the Likud Party in Israel in much the same way the Heritage Foundation associates with the GOP in the United States. According to Mrs. Gingrich, Robert Loewenberg, who runs IASPS, recommended her for her job at the IEDC. Howard Ash worked with Mrs. Gingrich at the IEDC and as a fundraiser for the IASPS. Washington lobbyist and former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber was one of Newt Gingrich’s closest associates in Congress and personal friends at the time of some of these events. Weber was a trustee of IASPS, according to IRS 990s, and was mentioned in IASPS newsletters. Weber says his relationship with IASPS ended “many years ago. I never knew I was a trustee.”
Soghanalian, a consummate actor, developed a clever and ironic response to their overtures, with the approval of his FBI contacts. He told Bennett that he would talk to the Iraqi government about financing the entire deal. At the suggestion of the FBI, Soghanalian asked to speak to Mrs. Gingrich in person. Soghanalian said, “Bennett told me not until a week after the deposit was made…It was funny because Bennett said Mrs. Gingrich was very concerned about being caught on tape.”
Bennett says, “Everything I told Sarkis was done under the instructions of Howard Ash. He gave me the words.”
In early February 1996, Bennett told Soghanalian he could not arrange a meeting with Mrs. Gingrich for at least three or four weeks. A few days later Bennett called Soghanalian and asked for another $500,000 to be wired directly into Ash’s account at the IASPS.
Under FBI agents’ instructions, on February 12, 1996, Soghanalian demanded to talk to Mrs. Gingrich. “Bennett was nervous. He said it would scare her, and I should only make small talk and, if I brought up the payments, she would hang up,” Soghanalian said. “Bennett kept putting me off. He told me she had not called him back but he had a better idea. He would get me with both of them once I gave him the deposit. Bennett said that this Institute would hold a fundraiser where we could meet confidentially with Gingrich and his wife.” According to the FBI memo, Soghanalian told Bennett he would not pay $10 million without first talking to Mrs. Gingrich directly “to receive assurances regarding the specifics of this deal.” Another year passed before Bennett called him back.
Marianne Gingrich, 2012According to Tony Khater, in January 1997, Bennett started calling Soghanalian again at the Miami horse farm. Soghanalian told the FBI, and the Miami field office asked Washington headquarters for an extension of the wiretap, since authorization to continue recording had run out. Section Chief Paul Philip signed the memo along with several other FBI agents. Richard Gregorie, the assistant U.S. Attorney, was a key supporter of the probe. The memo said that Gregorie and the FBI’s Miami lawyer, Martin King, both favored moving ahead with the Gingrich-Bennett investigation. Gregorie, the memo said, “sees no entrapment issues.”
The request was approved and the investigation continued. The FBI recorded the February 2, 1997, conversation between Soghanalian and Bennett. Officials involved in the case, Soghanalian and Khater all confirm that Soghanalian also contacted Ash at the request of the Bureau. “Ash said I should work through him and not Bennett to get to both Gingriches. They were competing for the money,” the arms dealer said. Ash reassured Soghanalian “that Gingrich would send his own man down to Miami to meet with me.”
That man was Ben Waldman, a longtime Republican operative with strong ties to the Christian conservative movement. He was not unknown to the FBI. “His name coming up in the investigation got our attention,” says an official close to the investigation who asked not to be identified. Waldman’s name had surfaced in an earlier federal investigation of bribery and kickbacks during the Reagan administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that resulted in the indictment and subsequent plea bargain of former Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt and other top officials – but not Waldman.
What worried Soghanalian about Waldman were not his connections to the Christian Right, but his connections to the Likud Party in Israel. “My friends in Israel told me there was an effort by the Christian Right to join with right-wing political parties around the world,” Soghanalian said. “Reagan’s people had started this in the 1980s. They even tried to use me to make contact with the Baath Party in Iraq in 1983.”
At the time of the FBI probe, Waldman was listed as the chief fundraiser for IASPS, where Ash, through Bennett, had instructed Soghanalian to send the $10 million. David Yerushalmi, who was the IASPS lawyer, confirms that both Waldman and Ash had fundraising roles at the Institute at the time. When Waldman met with Soghanalian, he said he was a Vice President of the Institute.
For the meeting between Waldman and Soghanalian, the FBI rented a luxury, waterfront home on a canal not far from the posh commercial section of downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Tony Khater says, “The meeting would be a luncheon. I had to order in an Orthodox catered lunch for Waldman.”
On cue from the FBI, Soghanalian opened the front door of the luxurious one-story house. Waldman admired the home and asked Soghanalian about the yacht docked at the backyard pier. “As we ate the lunch, Waldman asked me to donate $20,000 to this institute of his. It was the same place that Bennett wanted me to use to pay him off. I kept trying to talk about other things, like the Iraqi arms embargo,” Soghanalian said. “I asked him could Gingrich get the sanctions lifted if I paid that man the money.”
The man Howard Ash picked to replace Morty Bennett as the man to separate Sarkis Soghanalian from his millions was a former Reagan White House aide with a long history in conservative Republican and Israeli politics. Though Waldman looks like an aging boy scout, by the time he met Soghanalian for a kosher lunch, all arranged by the FBI, he had accumulated an impressive dossier of business and political associates. Waldman was among the young Republicans who grew close during the Reagan administration – men like Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan. He was President Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the Jewish community. He also raised funds for the Institute. In an interview in the 1990s, Waldman identified himself to National Public Radio as a Vice President for IASPS.
Waldman played a key role in bringing Jewish conservative voters into the Republican Party as an aide in the Pat Roberson 1988 presidential campaign and as executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, now the Republican Jewish Coalition. He had close business and personal ties to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. By 2000, Waldman was president and part owner of SunCruz Casinos, a controversial offshore gaming company with organized crime connections. Another owner, Gus Boulis, was battling Abramoff for control of the company. Boulis was shot dead in his car a year later.
Reached for comment, Waldman refused to go on the record, but, prior to that, he did acknowledge he had worked with Howard Ash at the IASPS. When asked specific questions about his meeting with Soghanalian, he says, “First of all, I am not going to go on the record and, second, this happened so long ago, anything I am going to tell you is going to be clouded by my poor memory and lack of specificity. I am not in that business anymore. It is not the right thing to talk about.”
Khater, Soghanalian, and the FBI tapes reveal that at the luncheon Soghanalian insisted to Waldman that he would donate to IASPS only on the condition he could meet with Speaker and Mrs. Gingrich in private. After the luncheon, prosecutors and FBI agents in Miami were convinced that the case should be aggressively pursued.
Working with Ash, Waldman planned a fundraiser for the Institute in Miami for June 8, 1997. Waldman later confirmed to the FBI that it was Ash who gave him Soghanalian’s name as a potential donor. The reception was to feature Marianne Gingrich and “a surprise guest.” FBI agents made plans to bug the fundraiser. In mid-May, the FBI’s Miami field office once again requested permission to tape record the meeting.
According to sources inside the FBI, Neil Gallagher, then the deputy chief of the FBI’s criminal division, after seeking the advice of a half dozen other FBI and Justice Department officials – but not Attorney General Janet Reno – ordered the investigation closed. The Miami field office and prosecutors were dumbfounded. They said Gallagher shut down the investigation just when Soghanalian was to meet Gingrich and his wife at Ben Waldman’s fundraiser.
After his retirement from the FBI, Gallagher said: “We can’t go around encouraging people to offer bribes to elected officials – we don’t do that…” When called recently for comment about the case at his home in Davidson, North Carolina, Gallagher says, “I can’t talk about this. You have to call the Justice Department.”
Another senior FBI official does not believe Gallagher’s explanation: “Do you remember the Abscam case? That is where FBI agents posing as rich Arabs bribed members of Congress. Gallagher did not object then. The truth is the Bureau thought Clinton was through because of the impeachment [proceedings] and they saw Gingrich as the most powerful man in America.”
In one recent interview Mrs. Gingrich says that she was unaware that Soghanalian had been invited to the fundraiser that was held in a private condominium in Miami Beach. She says that Joe Gaylord, her former husband’s political aide, would have handled such events. Gaylord did not return repeated phone calls for comment. A Miami Herald article puts Gingrich in Miami on this date. The fundraiser took place as planned on Sunday, June 8, 1997. Soghanalian, under orders from the FBI, did not attend. Twenty-five guests enjoyed a reception with Marianne Gingrich at an upscale oceanfront condominium in Miami. Her “surprise guest” that morning, her husband, Speaker Newt Gingrich, spoke about and urged support for free-market reform in Israel.
In a later conversation about the event Mrs. Gingrich confirms she and her husband attended the IASPS fundraiser with “about fifty other guests…We stayed about an hour and Newt was a surprise guest.”
After their meetings in Paris in 1995, Marianne Gingrich says she did not hear Soghanalian’s name again for several years. “It was in October of the last election year, 1998, and I get a call from Victoria (Toensing), and I was in Ohio and just found out I had MS, and I had to go into treatment. I was on heavy steroids; I am in the middle of a medical mess, high as a kite on steroids. I had to go to the Cleveland Clinic.” Marianne Gingrich was traveling with her assistant to speak to a conservative group in Ohio. She had scheduled a side trip to see a MS specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. “I get told I have to immediately get treatment. His nurse had MS, and she had the treatments available. Then you have to take pills to come off of it…. I am in the middle of that. I get a call from Victoria, and I said, ‘Just handle it.’ I am drugged up and high as a kite and I was bloating…I wasn’t supposed to be under stress,” she says.
According to Mrs. Gingrich, the entire controversy caught her by surprise. “No hint of this until Victoria called me….to tell me I was being investigated for arms dealing,” she says.
Victoria Toensing, Mrs. Gingrich's private attorney and former Reagan administrative official.Victoria Toensing, a former Reagan administration official, was Mrs. Gingrich’s private attorney. She and her husband, former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova, were one of the most prominent political couples in Washington in the 1990s. Mrs. Gingrich says, “She told me the Justice Department suspected I was involved in arms dealing.” Ms. Toensing confirmed to the media in 2002 that her client did meet with Soghanalian in Paris, but she said that Mrs. Gingrich went only to help “Mr. Ash secure funding from Mr. Soghanalian…The only information she was given … was that he was a Mid-Eastern investor.” Toensing said Mrs. Gingrich knew nothing about the arms dealer’s background despite the fact that Soghanalian had been well known in Republican circles for years in Washington and Florida and had attended several Republican fundraisers that the Gingriches had also attended. In addition, Soghanalian had appeared on 60 Minutes and Nightline prior to the meeting in Paris.
According to Mrs. Gingrich, Toensing told the FBI that her client’s conversations with Soghanalian were “limited to obtaining funding for IEDC and trivial social conversation. Nothing more.” In a prepared statement for the media in 2002 Toensing wrote: “Mr. Soghanalian decided not to invest, and Ms. Gingrich never saw or talked with him again.” Mrs. Gingrich says that Toensing’s efforts to kill the investigation went all the way up to FBI Director Louis Freeh, who made the final decision. Toensing did not return several telephone calls for comment.
Soghanalian’s recollection was far different. He said that after Paris “they (Ash and Bennett) were calling me every day to see how I got along with Marianne.”
Soghanalian told the FBI that he said to Mrs. Gingrich “that Iraq owed me $54 million, and I asked her whether she, with the help of her husband, could get the United Nations embargo against Iraq lifted so I could be paid.” Soghanalian said he also asked her if her husband could help him win congressional backing for a scheme to build a high-speed train through Florida. “Ash had told me this is one of the deals I could invest in – she could help us through Newt,” Soghanalian said. The FBI 302s confirm Soghanalian’s account of this part of the conversation. Soghanalian said Mrs. Gingrich told him “that she could get congressional support for the train, but her organization needed money for investment.”
Marianne Gingrich says, “I was just trying to keep the conversation going about his potential investment. I may have been polite, but I don’t remember ever discussing the arms embargo…I would have never suggested he invest in high speed rail. It was something I knew about, and it was impractical and a poor investment.”
This statement contradicts an earlier account by Victoria Toensing, who said in the 2002 statement, “Neither Iraqi sanctions nor a Florida bullet train … were ever brought up.” The lawyer went on: “It is not unusual for con artists to make false claims about well-known people.”
In a recent interview Mrs. Gingrich did recall the discussion about the possible bullet train deal. “I was humoring him, making small talk,” she says. Despite what is on the FBI tapes, Waldman denied in interviews at the time that there was ever a direct discussion of Speaker Gingrich assisting Soghanalian in getting the UN Iraq embargo lifted in return for money. Waldman claimed he was simply trying to humor Soghanalian, since he was a potential donor to the Institute. Newt Gingrich told the FBI that he “only vaguely” recalled Waldman’s name. He said, “To the best of my knowledge, I never sent anyone anywhere on behalf of the Institute.” The investigation took place while Gingrich was under other unrelated congressional ethics investigations and in the middle of the Clinton impeachment proceedings.
Newt Gingrigh and third wife Callista.A short time later, Newt and Marianne Gingrich separated and went through a contentious divorce. Gingrich resigned as House Speaker and from Congress in January 1999 and married a congressional aide with whom he was having an affair.
On the night of February 6, 2001, Gus Boulis – who had sold most of his interest in the SunCruz gambling ship venture to Adam Kidan, Jack Abramoff and Ben Waldman – was driving home from work when he was gunned down. It was a classic mob hit. Adam Kidan, whom Jack Abramoff had brought into the company with Waldman, had ties to two organized crime families and became an instant suspect. (He denies knowing anything about the death.) While Kidan and Abramoff served prison sentences connected to the SunCruz case, the Miami U.S. Attorney’s office did not bring charges against Waldman, who owned 10 percent of the company. Today he lives in suburban Washington and sells dental equipment. As Abramoff tells it in interviews about his new book, congressional corruption is commonplace. In the book’s acknowledgements, he thanks his “lifelong friend and partner Ben Waldman.”
Howard Ash is still active in penny stock investments and charitable organizations from Miami to South Africa to Croatia. He is involved with a long list of ever-changing companies from a Miami Beach house at 4233 Sheridan Avenue, including Claridge Management, Ashtine Holding Group, Associated Medical Billing, Biocard Corporation, Biorecord Corporation, CMM Consulting Medical Industries, Judaica International, Shesha Holdings Inc. and many others.
On the website Dealmakers, he is described as “a seasoned international businessman with experience in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1990, Howard co-founded Abrams, Ash & Associates, a Merchant Bank, and sold his shares in 1992. Since 1992 Howard has served as CEO, COO and CFO to a variety of high-profile, international companies, including Israel Export Development Corporation, CITA Americas, BioCard, Inc., and several publicly traded companies. Howard’s leadership provided development of business documents and corporate identity packages, business planning, strategy formation, web presence, operations and implementation, investment banking liaisons, and investor relations. Howard, a silent partner in Tudog Creative Business Consulting, leverages his extensive network of international contacts and international consulting firms to provide clients with the broadest and most effective services available.”
Morty Bennett says he is retired and loves living in West Virginia.