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GINGRICH INVESTIGATOR FINDS NO BASIS TO GO AHEAD WITH ETHICS CASE

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The outside counsel looking into ethics charges against Rep. Newt Gingrich, the House's No. 2 Republican leader, found no basis to go forward with the case, congressional sources said Friday.

That conclusion, following a three-month, $150,000 investigation, was presented to the House ethics committee during a briefing this week, the sources said, speaking on condition they not be named.But the attorney presenting the findings, William Kunkel, also gave the panel a list of questions that remained unanswered and will have to be pursued by the committee's own staff before any final disposition of the case, said both Democratic and Republican sources.

One of the sources said some of the loose ends could be important, adding: "There's a lot of loose money out there. It will be a close call" on whether to drop the case.

Some of the questions involve what was done by the publisher of a book Gingrich wrote, "Window of Opportunity," to promote sales, one source said.

Kunkel is a partner in Phelan, Pope and John, the same Chicago law firm that handled the ethics investigation of former House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas. Wright resigned May 31. Gingrich filed the complaint that led to the opening of Wright's ethics case.

Gingrich said Friday he did not know what was in the report, but he called for it to be released publicly, as he had in the case of the ethics report on Wright. He also said he had not been contacted by the ethics committee.

"I haven't seen it. We have no idea what it says and we're waiting for the committee to finish its work and we'll continue to cooperate with the committee," Gingrich said. "When it's all done, I'm sure they will release it."

However, one source familiar with the case said Gingrich had been told at least informally about the developments. Gingrich, R-Ga., is the minority whip, the second-ranking post in the House Republican leadership.

The case stems from a complaint by Rep. Bill Alexander, D-Ark., that Gingrich violated House rules and federal campaign finance laws in the operation of a limited partnership created in 1984 to promote the book, which Gingrich wrote with his wife and one other co-author.

Sources who demanded anonymity said Kunkle concluded, based on information developed since the probe began in July, that there was no basis on which to open a formal investigation, known as a preliminary inquiry.

The law firm's investigative contract ended Wednesday, and committee Chairman Julian Dixon, D-Calif., said a renewal was not expected. But he acknowledged the panel's own staff was wrapping up loose ends in the investigation. The committee was expected to meet again next week and could vote on final disposition of the case as early as then, the sources said.

Gingrich has contended that Alexander filed the complaint in retaliation for his role in initiating the ethics investigation that forced Wright to resign as speaker. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Alexander's complaint focuses on a partnership of 21 individuals who each put up to $5,000 to promote the book.