Is it a violation of Congressional decorum to call for your former colleagues to be thrown in jail? Newt Gingrich lobbed a bomb early in Tuesday’s Bloomberg/Washington Post debate by telling the audience that he would like to imprison Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), co-authors of last year’s financial reform package. The attack drew a fierce and immediate rebuttal from Frank, who slammed the “self-styled intellectual leader of the free world” for his “very odd” comments.
“If you want to put people in jail, you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd,” Gingrich said in the debate. His remark came after the candidates were asked about the lack of criminal prosecutions of Wall Street officials in the wake of the financial crisis.
Moderator Charlie Rose offered Gingrich a chance to walk his remarks back, saying he surely didn’t mean they should actually go to jail. But Gingrich stood his ground, saying Dodd should be investigated for his ties to Countrywide Financial and Frank for his ties to Fannie Mae.
“All I am saying is, everybody in the media who wants to go after the business community ought to start by going after the politicians who were at the heart of the sickness that is weakening this country,” he said.
Frank said Gingrich’s anger over his and Dodd’s role in the financial meltdown was absurd given that Republicans were in charge of the House and — excerpt for a brief period — Senate, from 1995 to 2007.He noted that he worked on reform legislation on mortgage in his first year as chair in 2007.
“It’s interesting, the charge is failure to stop Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay from deregulating,” he said. “This notion we caused the problem that started while they were in charge even by Gingrich’s standards is very odd.”
Added Frank: “I wish I knew that he was willing to listen to my advice, I would have given him some: I would have told him not to impeach Clinton, I would have told his successors not to go to war with Iraq, and I would have told DeLay not to go on the dance show.”
Frank speculated that Gingrich’s comments were borne out of frustration with his campaign.
“He’s been having a bad year, you know — this self-styled intellectual leader of the free world struggling to stay ahead of Michele Bachmann in the polls is unsettling him so he talks even sillier than he sometimes does,” he said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.