Gingrich: We "earned" criticism over Freddie Mac

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Sunday continued to defend his prior consulting work for Freddie Mac - but says his real mistake was that his campaign did not get out in front of the issue "from the day one."

In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," Gingrich responded to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial accusing the candidate of being blind to "why anyone is offended" by "his lucrative ties to the failed mortgage giant Freddie Mac," and faulting the candidate for a "lack of candor" in explaining the relationship.

"I think, candidly, we earned that editorial by not stopping and handling this from the day one and laying it out," Gingrich said Sunday.

He then continued to defend his relationship with Freddie Mac, and reiterated previous claims that his financial rewards for "consulting" were less than they appeared - and that, actually, his record is "much closer to what the Wall Street Journal wants."

"The facts are, I didn't personally get that kind of money," Gingrich told Schieffer. "It went to a consulting firm which had offices in three cities. The share I got of it was relatively small."

Gingrich has staunchly - and repeatedly - denied that he ever served as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, despite being paid nearly $2 million by the mortgage giant between 1999 and 2008. Gingrich has been criticized for using a narrow definition of the term "lobbyist" when he denies having been one.

"We did consulting advice," Gingrich said Sunday. "The only thing I ever wrote for Freddie Mac that was ever published basically said, as part of it, they need more regulations. The only time I've talked to the Congress or to the Republicans in Congress was in July of 2008. And it's actually in the New York Times at the time, and I said, 'Vote against the bailout.' I said, 'Do not help Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. This is not something you should do.'"

A July 2008 New York Times story does indeed describe a scenario in which "Former Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke at a private party meeting before the vote and joined Mr. Boehner in encouraging Republicans to oppose" a bill that bailed out Fannie and Freddie.

But a Wall Street Journal article published Saturday points to an interview demonstrating that "as late as April 2007 Mr. Gingrich had defended Fannie and Freddie as examples of conservative governance," warning in the interview that "while we need to improve the regulation of the GSEs, I would be very cautious about fundamentally changing their role or the model itself."

The Journal also points to previous incidents in which Gingrich either tried to block efforts to reforming the mortgage giants or failed to advocate for reform.

"Mr. Gingrich would help his candidacy if he stopped defending his Freddie payday, admitted his mistake, and promised to atone as President by shrinking Fannie and Freddie and ultimately putting them out of business," the editorial posits.

On Sunday, Gingrich said he now favors "breaking them both up," and that he was unaware of the practices going on at the time that contributed to the housing crisis.

"Nobody is walking in and telling me, 'Look, this is how dumb we're being. This is the size of the risk we're engaged in,'" he said of his experience working for the company during that period. "I do in fact favor breaking them both [Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac] up. I've said each of them should devolve into probably four or five companies and they should be weaned off the government endorsements because it has given them both inappropriate advantages and because we now know from the history of how they evolved that they abused that kind of responsibility."

Gingrich suggested his consulting work for the company derived from an interest in housing the poor.

"Do I think there's a purpose to try and help poor people get into housing? Yes. I started out, I think, in 1994 with Habitat for Humanity. We actually got one of the companies to help try to get every member of Congress to build one habitat house," he said.

"My motto was to help the poor earn their housing, not to try to give them housing I couldn't afford," he continued. "And I kept trying to find a way to use conservative principles to help poor people acquire housing, which I think is still a worthy goal."

Conservatives often criticize Freddie Mac and sister firm Fannie Mae for exacerbating the 2008 financial crisis by fueling excessively cheap mortgages with their implicit guarantee from Uncle Sam. Amid mounting losses, the two quasi-government firms were seized by the Bush administration in 2008 and placed under total government control. The two firms have since taken more than $170 billion in taxpayer funds to provide stability to the struggling housing market.

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