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Gingrich's Sweetheart Deal With Tiffany's Gives Off Appearance of Impropriety


It appears the Gingrich campaign is doubling down on its bet that Americans don't care that the thrice-married former Speaker may have received special treatment to open up a no-interest line of credit with Tiffany's (NYSE: TIF).

Gingrich Press Secretary Rick Tyler tweeted me on Saturday, claiming that we had a mistake in my story about Newt Gingrich's large line of credit with Tiffany's, the luxury jeweler of the rich and famous. We had reported then that Gingrich had access to a large line of no-interest credit with Tiffany's — another possible legal and ethical violation for the embattled former Speaker of the House.

It turns out, Gingrich was one of 1000 or so customers to qualify for a sweetheart deal with Tiffany's and receive zero-interest loans on large purchases for certain special clientele.

In his tweet, Tyler wrote “Luci, you have your it wrong. You should update. Tiffany's has zero interest financing 2(C).”

That's fantastic and somewhat well as completely irrelevant to the story.

According to Tiffany's statement this weekend, Tiffany's offers two different forms of credit. The first is a regular revolving line of credit, with rates set on a state-by-state basis. The second is a no-interest-for-one-year account, known as a Tiffany's Time Account.

"To meet competitive conditions, Tiffany makes Time Accounts available to revolving credit card customers who wish to purchase engagement rings over $1,000 or other merchandise valued over $5,000," Tiffany's said in a statement. "On a transactional basis, this program offers interest-free borrowing for up to one year for credit-worthy Tiffany customers."

Back the bus up. Notice the wording. To qualify for the Time Account, you need to be a “revolving credit card customer” and/or be “credit-worthy”. Under which criteria did Newt Gingrich qualify for the no-interest loan? Neither he nor Tiffany's will say.

Did Gingrich receive no-interest terms in addition to a regular account? If so, that undermines Newt's original story that his debts with Tiffany's were frugal and responsible because they were not paying interest on the purchases. Then again, frugal people do not typically have $500,000 accounts with Tiffany's.

If he doesn't have a regular account, on what basis did Tiffany's extend him the interest-free terms?

Could it be that he just happens to be credit worthy because he's the former Speaker of the House? His wife just happened to be a staffer on the committee overseeing policies near and dear to Tiffany's? His former staffer just happens to be a lobbyist for Tiffany's? For a man running for office as a Washington outsider, Gingrich sure has a lot of experience and connections in Washington.

Even if nothing sinister happened, and everything Gingrich alleges is legitimately true — that his wife's influential spot on a committee, his former top aide's placement as a lobbyist for Tiffany's, and his former status as Speaker and future status as Presidential candidate had nothing to do with the interest-free loans — the appearance of impropriety is breathtaking, particularly given it isn't Gingrich's first dance with the devil. In 1997, Gingrich was reprimanded by the House of Representatives for ethics violations, and fined $300,000. He was also engaged in an affair with his now-wife Callista while pursuing former President Bill Clinton's impeachment charges over lying about an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Benzinga contacted Press Secretary Rick Tyler for comment and clarification on the Tiffany's accounts. Tyler and the Gingrich campaign declined to comment, adding fuel to fire that perhaps there is more to this embarrassing story than the campaign wishes to admit.

How do we know that the appearances of impropriety are just appearances? Gingrich is running for President of the United States. Given how insistent some were with President Obama, demanding he release two versions of his birth certificate, is it really too much to ask for the Gingrich campaign to explain to the American people how he can justify calling himself frugal while running a $500,000 tab at Tiffany's?

At the very least, the gaffe comes at an awful time for Gingrich's floundering campaign. His theme so far is that Gingrich is the new Reagan — an ironic choice, since the campaign is about as dead as the former president and his discredited economic policies.


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