Mitt Romney on Monday called on Newt Gingrich to return the $1.6-plus million he was paid by government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which many conservatives say played a significant role in causing the 2008 financial crisis.
Asked if Gingrich should "give that money back" during an appearance on Fox News, Romney responded, "I sure do."
"He was on a debate saying that politicians who took money from Freddie and Fannie should go to jail, which is outrageous in itself but look, he says he was in the consulting business," said Romney. "That's very different than the consulting business other people have been in. He was in the business of connecting folks with government. He was on K Street. This was a connection with government kind of business. It's very different than the private sector."
Added the former Massachusetts governor: "One of the things that I think that people recognize in Washington is that people go there to serve the people and then they stay there to serve themselves. And contacts in Washington, working for Freddie Mac, getting paid $1.6 million. By the way, a very different number than he said in the first debate, he said $300,000 and he was there as an historian. That would make him the highest paid historian in history. Look, this whole Washington crowd of insiders that stay there, get paid a lot of money there because of their associations, I think it's something the American people are tired of."
Gingrich hit back hard when asked about the comments in a media availability shortly afterward.
"I love the way he and his consultants do these things," he said. "I would just say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all of the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to listen to him. And I bet you $10 -- not $10,000 -- that he won't take the offer."
Gingrich - who claimed just yesterday that he will not engage in negative attacks, vowing that his "campaign will be relentlessly positive" - took two shots at Romney in this comment. One was over his eyebrow-raising offer of a $10,000 bet during Saturday night's debate, which critics immediately used to cast the wealthy former Massachusetts governor as out of touch with average Americans. The other echoed an Obama campaign criticism of Romney's former company Bain Capital, which took over struggling companies and sometimes laid off workers while trying to get them on firmer financial footing.
Romney's initial comments refer in part to Gingrich's remarks in a November debate, when Gingrich was asked about being paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac. (It was later reported he was paid at least $1.6 million by the company.)
Gingrich said last month that he offered his "advice as a historian" for the money, though he is widely believed to have been paid the money to help the company's cause on Capitol Hill. (He also claimed he told the company its business model was "insane," a characterization challenged by those Freddie Mac executives who worked with him.) Gingrich called himself a strategic adviser to the group; as NPR reports, "strategic advisor is the job title of choice for former members of Congress who tell lobbyists what to do, but want to avoid the public disclosure required for registered lobbyists themselves."
With reporting by Sarah Huisenga.Special report: Election 2012