ABC Airs Interview With Gingrich's Ex-Wife Marianne

Newt Gingrich's second wife, Marianne, sat down for an ABC News interview in which she described her messy marriage and divorce from the former House speaker. The interview aired Thursday night on Nightline, two days before South Carolina holds its primary.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As Mara just mentioned, the debate last night opened with a question about a claim made by Gingrich's ex-wife. Well, Marianne Gingrich gave her exclusive interview to ABC's "Nightline," putting the candidate's personal life in the spotlight once again. NPR's Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The interview was incredibly hyped, in part because Marianne Gingrich has been silent so far on her ex-husband's presidential candidacy. This was her first television interview since their 1999 divorce.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NIGHTLINE")

MARIANNE GINGRICH: He said I want a divorce. I said is there somebody else, and it was quiet. And I knew.

KEITH: That someone else was Callista Bisek, a congressional staffer two decades younger than Gingrich. They had an affair for six years. Callista Gingrich is now his third wife, and stands by his side at campaign events nodding adoringly. Their affair in the 1990s spans the period when Gingrich led the impeachment of President Clinton, giving speeches about morality along the way. Marianne Gingrich told ABC's Brian Ross she later learned the affair was happening in their Washington apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NIGHTLINE")

GINGRICH: He always called me at night. He always ended with I love you. Well, she was there listening.

KEITH: At one point, she said in the "Nightline" interview, Gingrich even suggested they could reach an understanding.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NIGHTLINE")

GINGRICH: You want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do.

BRIAN ROSS: What was he saying to you, you think?

GINGRICH: Oh, he was asking to have an open marriage and I refused.

ROSS: He wanted an open marriage?

GINGRICH: Yeah, that I accept the fact that he has somebody else in his life.

KEITH: At last night's debate, though, Gingrich ferociously disputed this claim.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

NEWT GINGRICH: This story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They're attacking the governor. They're attacking me. I'm sure they'll presently get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul. I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.

KEITH: With the help of a widely supportive audience, Gingrich did his best to make this a story about the media, not him. And this may well have worked, says Todd Harris, a Republican strategist.

TODD HARRIS: He put the media on trial, and any time the media is on trial in a Republican primary, the media is going to lose.

KEITH: Although some of the details were not known, many voters have long been aware of Gingrich's messy marriage history, with affairs and abrupt divorces. Harris says these new revelations may turn off some South Carolina primary voters, but for every one of them, he says there will be another two who blame the media or simply don't trust a last-minute attack.

HARRIS: These are voters who are very suspicious of anything that the mainstream media reports to begin with. And it's very easy for them to come to the conclusion that they're just going to dismiss all of this because they don't like who delivered it.

KEITH: Harris says if this had come out sooner, it might have had an impact. But with only a day left to go before the primary, he thinks Gingrich will be able to maintain his surging numbers in the polls. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Columbia, South Carolina.

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