March 9, 2007 — -- Setting the stage for his entry into the presidential race, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., gave a radio interview to be broadcast today with Focus on the Family's James Dobson, in which Gingrich for the first time publicly acknowledged cheating on his first and second wives.
"There were times when I was praying and when I felt I was doing things that were wrong. But I was still doing them," Gingrich said during the interview. "I look back on those as periods of weakness and periods that I'm not only not proud of, but I would deeply urge my children and grandchildren not to follow in my footsteps."
You can listen to the full interview here.
"I was married very young and had my first daughter when I was very young, in fact at the end of my freshman year in college," he said of his first marriage to Jackie Battley, his former high school geometry teacher. "And after a period of time, about 18 years, things just didn't work out."
Gingrich married his second wife, Marianne Ginther, months after he divorced Battley in 1981. According to Battley, Gingrich discussed divorce terms with her while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery.
"There are things in my own life that I have gotten on my knees and turned to God and prayed about," Gingrich said.
Gingrich also acknowledged cheating on Ginther while leading the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for allegations of perjury involving the Paula Jones sexual harassment civil case and the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The couple "went through a very difficult time," Gingrich said. "We had a big difference about public life."
Gingrich argued that the Clinton case was different from his personal transgressions.
"The president of the United States got in trouble for committing a felony in front of a sitting federal judge," he said, arguing that Clinton had "deliberately committed perjury."
Because he had been through a divorce, Gingrich said, he knew the importance of telling the truth during a deposition.
"The standard is: In a court of law should somebody who's popular get away with perjury?" Gingrich said. "And I drew a line in my mind that said, 'Even though I run the risk of being deeply embarrassed, and even though at a purely personal level I am not rendering judgment on another human being, as a leader of the government trying to uphold the rule of law, I have no choice except to move forward and say that you cannot accept felonies and you cannot accept perjury in your highest officials."
It's worth noting that Gingrich did not limit his comments about Clinton and the Democrats to legalistic allegations of perjury.
Constantly espousing family values even while he carried on an affair, Gingrich linked his party to wholesome family values and Democrats to, well, something else.
During the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Gingrich said, "Woody Allen having nonincest with a nondaughter to whom he was a nonfather because they were a nonfamily fits the Democratic platform perfectly."
In 1994, Gingrich linked Democrats to Susan Smith, a woman who had murdered her two children in 1991.
"I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things," he said. "The only way you get change is to vote Republican."
Gingrich divorced Ginther in 2000 and soon married his third wife, Callista Bisek, a former congressional aide who was in her 20s when she and Gingrich began their affair.
"There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards," Gingrich said. "There's certainly times when I've fallen short of God's standards and my neighbors' standards. But I think my job is to try to do for my country -- and on a very personal level for my children and for my grandchildren and for their future -- to try to do everything I can to be a servant in helping this country deal both with the domestic challenges to our very identity, and that's what rediscovering God in America is all about, and to foreign challenges to our very survival. … I hope that people will see me in that context."
Among the three Republican front-runners -- thrice-married former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; twice-married Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Gingrich -- there are eight current and past wives.
It's a point underlined by the wife of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, fourth in many polls, who said, "The biggest difference between Mitt Romney and the other candidates," is that her Mormon husband "only had one wife."