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TAXPAYERS PROTECTING NEWT ON BOOK TOUR

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Taxpayers are helping pay for protecting House Speaker Newt Gingrich on his 25-city book tour. Plainclothes officers from the U.S. Capitol Police are guarding him, while a private detail hired by his publisher has other security duties.

Capitol Police Sgt. Dan Nichols said Friday that the security provided for Gingrich while he promotes his best-selling book, "To Renew America," continues the protection normally given to the House speaker."We provide that at all times it's necessary . . . anywhere in the United States, no matter what activity," Nichols said.

A Gingrich spokeswoman, Lauren Sims, defended the use of police officers on the tour, calling a Democratic lawmaker's criticism "a lot of ankle-biting."

Gingrich's predecessors as speaker, former Reps. Tom Foley, D-Wash., Jim Wright, D-Texas, and Tip O'Neill, D-Mass., each had one Capitol Police officer assigned to them, according to a report by the clerk of the House cited recently in The Hill, a newspaper covering Congress. The paper quoted a Foley aide as saying no officers accompanied him on trips to his home district.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and other members of the House leadership are also entitled to protection by law, said Nichols, who declined to say how many officers are assigned to protect them.

Nichols declined to specify the number of officers involved in protecting Gingrich or the cost, citing security reasons. He would not confirm a report in Friday's New York Daily News that cited House Democrats' estimates that the bill for meals, airfare and lodging could reach $100,000, or about $10,000 per officer.

An aide to Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., estimated that expenses for the police would total $50,000 to $100,000 for the tour. In a letter Thursday to House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, Schroeder asked for details, such as costs.

"Since Mr. Gingrich has acknowledged that this is a private business venture, . . . would it not be appropriate to ask him to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of the security detail?" Schroeder wrote.

A private New York security detail hired by Gingrich's publisher, HarperCollins, also is providing security during the tour, publicity director Steven Sorrentino said. He declined further comment.

Nichols said the Capitol Police protect the speaker himself, while the private detail has broader security duties related to the locations he visits.