The U.S. Justice Department launched a two-year investigation into former House Speaker Newt Gingrich back in the late 90s, for his allegedly offering to lift an arms embargo on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in exchange for millions of dollars – only to have then-FBI director Louis Freeh call off the investigation, just as Gingrich and his then-wife Marianne were about to be nabbed in a sting operation related to the probe.
The shocking claim comes from veteran intelligence correspondent Joe Trento, who published a lengthy piece about the aborted scandal on his website, DC Bureau.org. The story, originally published on December 13, has already been picked up by The Washington Post and United Press International (UPI), albeit in truncated articles that over-simplify the scope of corruption involved.
At the center of the scandal was international private arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian, aka “The Merchant of Death” who gained fame for being the largest weapons dealer of the Cold War. Soghanalian, who passed away last October, was owed US$54 million in weapons he sold Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, but was unable to collect due to an embargo placed on the country after the end of the Gulf War.
Soghanalian said he was first approached on this bribery deal by one Morty Bennett of Miami, who told the arms dealer he had a business associate who had an “in” with Newt Gingrich’s then-wife Marianne, and it might be possible to use that connection on Soghanalian’s behalf.
Knowing the sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were preventing the arms dealer from collecting his debt, Bennett told Soghanalian that Mrs. Gingrich could help arrange through her husband, then Speaker of the House, a lifting of the embargo so the arms dealer could get his money.
Bennett’s associate who had the in with Mrs. Gingrich had worked with her at the the Israeli Export Development Corporation (IEDC), a front for a group of Jewish billionaires here to promote Israeli exports into the United States. Behind IEDC were such big names as Larry Silverstein, owner of the World Trade Center at the time of the 9/11 attacks, Sy Sims of the clothing chain, and Lawrence Tish, controller of the CBS media empire. Marianne Gingrich worked as a pitch woman for the organization.
The connection was also a major fundraiser for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS), a Jerusalem-based think tank headed by one Robert Lowenberg. Mrs. Gingrich described Lowenberg as a “friend.” IASPS also included another long-time Gingrich friend, former representative Vin Weber, a Republican of Minnesota, among its trustees. Although Weber now formally denies this, he was listed as a trustee in IASPS papers.
Following the contact from Morty Bennett, Soghanalian, who just happened to be a long-time FBI informant who worked closely with Richard Gregory, the assistant US attorney in Miami, reported the offer to the FBI. The FBI expressed interest in the matter and encouraged Soghanalian to maintain contact with the group.
Shortly after, Marianne Gingrich visited Paris under the auspices of IEDC and at the urging of Lowenberg. Incidentally at this time, Mrs. Gingrich was no longer on the payroll of IEDC, but she obviously maintained an association with them. Her visit to Paris included the company of Morty Bennett and Howard Ash. It was there in Paris where she met Soghanalian.
Mrs. Gingrich now claims she was soliciting a donation from Soghanalian to the IEDC. However, Soghanalian told the FBI that Mrs. Gingrich told him she could get her husband to lift the embargo on Iraq in exchange for “an understanding.”
Sometime later, Bennett came back to the arms dealer, saying Mrs. Gingrich wanted US$10 million to get the job done. Soghanalian was told that 5 of the 10 million was to go to Mrs. Gingrich. Another 1 million was for Bennett for his role as the intermediary. The recipients of the remaining $4million were not named, but those who know how Capitol Hill bribery works would assume it would be used to grease the wheels among other members of Congress who would help Gingrich expedite the operation.
Soghanalian told the FBI that he was instructed the bribe was to paid to the Washington office of IASPS, who would in turn launder the money to Mr. and Mrs Gingrich. This IEDC/IASPS connection shows up throughout the scenario. Not only did another IEDC associate of Mrs. Gingrich, attorney David Yerushalmi, serve as council for both IEDC and IASCS but both organizations shared a number of employees and mutual funding sources.
After having been informed by their long time informant Soghanalian that this overture had been made, first by an indirect source and then, according to Soghanalian, by Mrs. Gingrich herself, the FBI insisted that it was vital that Soghanalian seal the deal directly with Mrs. Gingrich and/or her husband, Newt, since this would clinch the criminal case.
As directed by the FBI, Soghanalian told Bennett that he would not make the “donation” to the IASPS until he could meet Mr. and Mrs. Gingrich in private. Pressured by Soghanalian, the arms dealer was told that the House Speaker would send his own man to Miami to arrange the meeting.
Gingrich’s own man in this case, Ben Waldman, is an interesting character. Waldman was Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the Jewish community and is very close to Netanyahu circles in Israel, as well as Pat Robertson and the pro-Israel lobbyist Jack Abrahmoff.
At the time of the bribery conspiracy, Waldman was chief fundraiser for the IASPS.
Finally, everything was in place, and the FBI was setting the trap for Gingrich. The FBI actually rented out a luxury home in Miami, and there on June 8 1997, Soghanalian was supposed to meet Newt Gingrich in person and solidify the illegal deal while FBI wiretaps and video cameras were in place.
At the last minute, FBI Director Louis Freeh sent down the order that Soghanalian was not to attend the event, which Gingrich did attend. A two-year-long investigation was brought to an abrupt end, just when they were about to catch Gingrich accepting the payoff.
Trento quoted one FBI agent as saying, “we got so close and when the target was in sight we were stopped by Washington.”
In fact, both the assistant US attorney, Richard Gregory, and and the FBI’s Miami attorney, Martin King, said they wanted to pursue the investigation to the end, only to be frustrated by the FBI Director.
Bennett, Ashton, Walton, and Marianne Gingrich all dismiss the reported event as lies. They have told contradicting stories on what happened, and Newt Gingrich has yet to comment. FBI officials now assert there was any evidence that Newt knew bribery conspiracy was underway.
While some aspects of the scandal may appear to have “anti-Israeli” overtones, it is important to note that Joe Trento, who published the original story, has a long history of pro-Israel activity in the United States. He was a “media cutout” for the number three man in the CIA, Joe Jesus Angleton. Angleton, of course, was a very pro-Israel head of the Mossad desk at the CIA, until he was ultimately fired by then-FBI Director William Colby. He was also the head of the CIA’s counter-intelligence, a key position at the bureau.