By MATTHEW JAFFE & ELICIA DOVER -
MIAMI – Newt Gingrich today was forced to confront head-on charges of hypocrisy after last week he angrily dismissed questions about his extra-marital conduct when a little over a decade earlier, as Speaker of the House, he had led impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for his own affair.
“When you were Speaker of the House, you criticized President Clinton for having an extramarital affair,” Univision correspondent Jorge Ramos said to Gingrich during a forum Wednesday in Miami.
“No, I criticized President Clinton for lying under oath in front of a federal judge, committing perjury – which is a felony for which normal people go to jail -” Gingrich replied before Ramos cut him off.
“However at the same time you were doing exactly the same thing.”
“But I wasn’t. You didn’t hear my answer. Look, I have been through two divorces -” Gingrich responded.
“Many people say that’s hypocritical,” Ramos pointed out.
“That’s right, because they listen to your question and they don’t understand the facts. The fact is, I have been through two divorces,” said the GOP candidate. “I have been deposed both times under oath and both times I have told the truth in the deposition because I know – I am not a lawyer – so I know it is a felony. Bill Clinton, who is a lawyer, a Yale law school graduate, he knew he was lying under oath, he knew it was perjury, he knew it was a felony and in fact, he lost his license to practice law in Arkansas as part of the deal -”
“I understand,” pressed Ramos, “but people think that’s hypocritical to criticize President Clinton for doing the same thing that you were doing at the same time.”
“Okay, there is some place there where there’s a mental synapse missing,” said an aggravated Gingrich. “I didn’t do the same thing. I never lied under oath, I have never committed perjury, I have never been involved in a felony – he was. I mean, I had one of his closest friends come to see me and said to m, ‘You know, lots of people have done what he did’ and I said, ‘That’s right but they didn’t lie under oath about it.’ And the guy looked at me and said ‘well, you’re right, that’s a felony and that’s a real problem.’”
Gingrich’s marital history surged to the forefront of the Republican race after his second wife Marianne told ABC News in an exclusive interview that Gingrich had requested an “open marriage” and lacked the moral character to be president. The interview, which aired following last Thursday’s debate in Charleston, did not derail Gingrich’s rise in South Carolina as he cruised to victory there on Saturday. The Florida primary is set for next Tuesday. Most recent polls show Gingrich locked in a virtual dead heat with rival Mitt Romney.
Matthew Jaffe is covering the 2012 campaign for ABC News & Univision.