Newt on Freddie, in Full

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 18 2011 2:48 PM

Newt on Freddie, in Full

It's gotten a little bit less attention than the interview with Michele Bachmann that ran right after, but I think Newt Gingrich's interview with Greta Van Susteren was his longest, largest-scale explanation of the Freddie Mac issue.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

"I think less than maybe once a month, they would drop by," he said. "We'd spend an hour. It would always start with me listening. I'd always say, What are you trying to solve? What are your concerns? What are you trying to get done?"

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Recall that he told CNBC's debate audience that he was hired to give Freddie advice as an "historian." This is not quite what he told Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was the contract during the time of 2007 when we went into a tailspin in the housing market? So did it extend as far as that point?
GINGRICH: To the best of my knowledge, it ended about the time that we were going into a tailspin, but I'd have to go back. I can't give you an exact date. It was clear by that stage that what you had was a giant bubble because you had loan requirements that had collapsed to a point of absurdity, where people could get mortgages who had, you know, no credit history, no down payment, et cetera.
And having been a professor of history and somebody who had actually looked at economic history over time, it was very clear that this was a bubble that was developing that had bad consequences. I've had a long period of being concerned about housing. Jack Kemp and I worked on housing issues back in the '80s. I supported Rick Lazio strongly when we were in charge of the Congress and he passed a housing reform bill.
I believe that there are conservative, practical ways to help relatively poor people get into housing, it's not by giving them mortgages that they can't pay. It's by teaching them how to budget, teaching them how to take care of a home. I did a lot of work when I was speaker with Habitat for Humanity, which works really well because the people who get the house actually help build it, so they have a real investment and a real interest in their own home.
So my interest in housing and my interest in helping relatively poor Americans have a chance to buy a house is very real and goes back a long way. I was approached to offer strategic advice.

Put like that, it sounds like he was tipping them off to problems. He backed off of that as the interview went on.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you spot what was coming in terms of the housing industry crisis? Did you tell them, you know, Look, you know, this is a real problem? You know, this is about to blow up on the nation. Did you see that coming?
GINGRICH: No.
VAN SUSTEREN: And did you warn them?
GINGRICH: Look, you could see in conversations, particularly by 2007, that the loan standards were becoming absurd. That was just -- that was patently obvious. What you couldn't see was that the Federal Reserve would tighten up in a way that you suddenly had a huge credit crunch. And I think that's a very different part of the problem.
I don't think anybody, whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve or the Council of Economic Advisers or other folks -- there were very few people who saw the intensity of the housing problem as it broke loose.

Reading between the lines, hard to figure that Gingrich's advice had as much to do with warning Fannie of problems than it had to do with telling them how to speak Republican as the party controlled the House, Senate, and presidency.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.