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Notwithstanding strong opposition from House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republicans, GOP members of the House ethics committee are moving closer to accepting an outside counsel to examine the speaker's conduct, congressional sources say.

While the issue won't be decided until September, committee Republicans have agreed to have the staff research the hiring of an outside counsel.Democrats have insisted that only an outside expert, with greater expertise than the committee's small staff, can resolve difficult questions in the case. Among them: Whether Gingrich's college course was really a political fund-raising tool and whether he turned material from the taxpayer-subsidized college course into a profitmaking book.