Going on offense after Newt Gingrich demanded he release his tax returns, Mitt Romney called on the former House speaker to publicly disclose all the records he submitted to the ethics committee back in the late 1990s, part of an effort to turn the tables on Mr. Gingrich on the eve of the South Carolina primary.
While Mr. Romney is stepping up his attacks on Mr. Gingrich, he is simultaneously playing down his chances of a South Carolina win. A new poll shows the former Massachusetts governor's lead slipping to Mr. Gingrich in Saturday's primary.
"I think I said from the very beginning, South Carolina is an uphill battle for a guy from Massachusetts. I knew that."
A Palmetto Poll released Friday, conducted by Clemson University, shows Mr. Gingrich leading Mr. Romney by 6 points, 32 to 26 percent. Rep. Ron Paul is third with 11 percent and Rick Santorum is last with 9 percent.
Seeking to regain the upper hand, Mr. Romney and his campaign called on Mr. Gingrich to provide all of the documents he submitted to the House Ethics Committee during an investigation into whether Mr. Gingrich's use of tax-exempt groups to raise money was illegal or violated House rules. Mr. Gingrich was eventually sanctioned by a 395-28 House vote and forced to repay the House $300,000 for the investigation, the first time in history the House had disciplined a speaker for ethical misconduct.
"Of course he should [release the report records]. Of course he should," Mr. Romney said at a press conference in Gilbert, S.C. "He was pushed out of the House by his fellow members. I think over 80 percent of Republican congressman voted to reprimand the speaker of the House — first time in history. And there are — [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi has the full record of that investigation. You know it's going to get out before the general elections. Sure, he ought to get it out now."
The committee released its 1997 report, although much of the underlying documentation remains private.
"We turned over 1 million pages of material," Mr. Gingrich said at a Dec. 5 press conference. "We had a huge report."
Romney campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho followed up with an emailed statement pressing Mr. Gingrich to produce the documents.
"Given Speaker Gingrich's newfound interest in disclosure and transparency, and his concern about an 'October surprise,' he should authorize the release of the complete record of the ethics proceedings against him," she said.
Talking to reporters in Orangeburg Friday afternoon, Mr. Gingrich mocked Mr. Romney's call — especially considering Mr. Romney's refusal to release his tax records before the South Carolina primary.
"He doesn't release anything, he doesn't answer anything, and he's even confused about whether or not he will ever release anything, and then he decided to pick a fight over releasing something," Mr. Gingrich said.
He said there's already a 900-page report from the ethics committee going into details, and he said he's willing to talk to Mr. Romney — "as soon as the governor reads the 900 pages."
Mrs. Pelosi, who sat on the House Ethics Committee during the investigation, told liberal blog Talking Points Memo last fall that she was aware of all the details of the probe, had seen all the damaging documents and would release them "at the right time."
Mr. Gingrich has threatened to charge Mrs. Pelosi with a House rules violation if she discloses the information and violates the committee's confidentiality rules.
"Nancy Pelosi is gleeful over the information she has on Speaker Gingrich, and Speaker Gingrich is concerned enough to threaten her with a rules violation," Ms. Gitcho said. "If Nancy Pelosi has this information, Barack Obama has this information."
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
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