Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in 1999 asked his second wife for an “open marriage” or a divorce at the same time he was giving speeches around the country on family and religious values, his former wife, Marianne, told The Washington Post on Thursday.
Marianne Gingrich said she first heard from the former speaker about the divorce request as she was waiting in the home of her mother on May 11, 1999, her mother’s 84th birthday. Over the phone, as she was having dinner with her mother, Newt Gingrich said, “I want a divorce.”
Shocked, Marianne Gingrich replied: “Is there anybody else?” she recalled. “He was quiet. Within two seconds, when he didn’t immediately answer, I knew.”
The next day, Newt Gingrich gave a speech titled “The Demise of American Culture” to the Republican Women Leaders Forum in Erie, Pa., extolling the virtues of the founding fathers and criticizing liberal politicians for supporting tax increases, saying they hurt families and children.
“When a liberal talks about values, will he or she actually like us to teach American history?” Newt Gingrich told the women’s group. “Will they actually like young people to learn that George Washington was an ethical man? A man of standards, a man who earned the right to be father of this country?”
Appearing at a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday, the former speaker called the interview by his ex-wife “tawdry and inappropriate,” and refused to answer any questions about it.
“I’m not going to say anything about Marianne,” he said, as his third wife Callista stood a few paces behind him.
Marianne Gingrich said she was speaking out for the first time this year because she wanted her story told from her point of view, rather than be depicted as the victim or suffer a whisper campaign by supporters of Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid.
“How could he ask me for a divorce on Monday and within 48 hours give a speech on family values and talk about how people treat people?” she said.
Asked about the timing of the revelations, she said she had had so many requests for interviews that “it was unavoidable.” She said that during a campaign season, “I knew I wouldn’t get through this year without” doing the interview.
The Gingrich campaign spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
In the four weeks after that 1999 phone call, Marianne and Newt Gingrich saw a counselor. During that time, he seemed to vacillate about what he wanted to do. Marianne Gingrich had learned the name of his then-paramour, Callista — now his wife — though Newt Gingrich never talked about her by name.
Newt Gingrich asked Marianne for an “open marriage” so that he could continue to see whoever he wanted. Marianne Gingrich, who had attended services in a Baptist church with Newt Gingrich, refused.
She said she decided to go public when she heard someone make derogatory comments about her on a radio program.
“Truthfully, my whole purpose was to get out there about who I was, so Newt couldn’t create me as an evil, awful person, which was starting to happen,” she said.
She talked on video for two hours to ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross, an edited version of which will be broadcast on Thursday night’s “Nightline,” and a transcript of which was released today. She laughed when told that some were reporting that she had a “bombshell,” and emphasized that many of her views of Newt Gingrich and his political positions are positive.
In anticipation of the interview, Newt Gingrich told NBC’s “Today” show that his divorce was a private matter. He said his daughters from his first marriage had written a letter to ABC News asking the network to spike the broadcast.
“Intruding into family things that are more than a decade old is simply wrong,” he told NBC.
Newt Gingrich has said that he has asked God for forgiveness, but Marianne Gingrich said he has not spoken to her since the divorce.
Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.