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Newt Gingrich says he will not be in Trump cabinet

WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich said Thursday he will not serve in the Donald Trump administration in any official role.

The former House speaker and presidential candidate had been mentioned frequently as a potential top member of the new government, possibly as secretary of defense, state or health and human services.

But he ended that speculation in an interview with McClatchy. "I will not be in the Cabinet," Gingrich, 73, said. "I intend to be focused on strategic planning."

McClatchy had contacted him for comment on whether his long ties to the Washington establishment might pose a problem with a Trump team that boasts of its outsider status and its promise to "drain the swamp" of Washington.

He did not say whether the decision not to be in the new government was his or Trump's. The Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Since leaving Congress in 1999, Gingrich established a range of for-profit businesses that intersected with policy and politics in Washington. These included taking consulting fees from mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and speaking fees, and support from the pharmaceutical industry. Those past ties to the drug industry in particular might have raised alarms given Trump's campaign criticism of the sector.

"The drug companies probably have the second or third most powerful lobby in this country," Trump said in a Feb. 4 town hall gathering in Exeter, N.H. "They get the politicians, and every single one of them is getting money from them."

Gingrich entered Congress in 1979 as a small-town assistant professor at West Georgia College. He was the architect of his party's stunning takeover of the House in 1994 after 40 years in exile, became speaker, and was a thorn in the side of Democrats and President Bill Clinton.

Out of office, he has parlayed his fame and interests into a small fortune.

"He's an opportunist. And we can see that through his entire political career ... he echoes all sides of all major issues," said Craig Holman, a veteran government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a left-leaning watchdog for greater transparency in government.

Gingrich formed a complex web of businesses. He penned books, including both fictional accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg and nonfiction tomes such as Winning the Future. He hit the lecture circuit as well.

In a November 2011 interview, his longtime attorney Randy Evans told the Washington Post that Gingrich's for-profit efforts netted revenue approaching $100 million over a decade. Evans did not return requests from McClatchy for comment.

In that same article, Gingrich acknowledged that his communications company at times earned him almost half a million dollars in speaking fees annually. "I was charging $60,000 a speech on the road, and I was doing 50 to 80 speeches a year," Gingrich told the paper.

Capitalizing on his political profile, Gingrich created the for-profit Center for Health Transformation. Clients, many of them big pharmaceutical companies, paid his center huge sums — up to $200,000 — to hear his views, it was revealed later in the center's bankruptcy proceedings. He insisted it was not a lobbying firm, and he was not a lobbyist. He charged corporate supporters "membership fees."

Gingrich was paid handsomely for speaking to drug makers such as Denmark's Novo Nordisk, which paid the center $1.2 million over six years. He also consulted for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Gingrich severed ties with the center in order to run for president, and it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy soon afterward.

Documents filed on April 4, 2012, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia show the Center for Health Transformation, which still was registered as The Gingrich Group LLC, owed in a range between $1 million and $10 million to more than 50 creditors.

Settlement documents obtained by McClatchy show that the bankruptcy proceeding went to mediation and continued into April 2014, when Gingrich agreed to $320,000 to be freed from his obligations to creditors. He paid creditors 31 cents on the dollar if his liabilities were indeed about $1 million.

A historian with a doctoral degree from Tulane University, Gingrich continues to write books and said he will be working on expanding the GOP victories nationwide ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Serving as a private citizen, Gingrich said he could engage the executive and legislative branches and the Republican Party, "which is exactly what I did under the Bush administration."

As to the Trump cabinet, Gingrich said it would not be stacked with academics and Harvard University professors who hold no real-world experience.

"Trump is going to break the mold," said Gingrich, an early supporter of Trump who had reportedly been on the short list for potential running mates.

The woman who led the House Ethics Committee in 1997 when it reprimanded Gingrich for ethics violations, former Rep. Nancy Johnson (R., Conn.) said Thursday she is disappointed he won't serve in a Trump administration.

Johnson hoped he'd become secretary of health and human services, given his knowledge of health care issues.

"I think that's Trump's loss, but I think he (Gingrich) is very good at where he's most effective," said Johnson, referring to Gingrich's help in framing GOP ideas for national and state-level elections.

His former chief of staff from 1981 to 1983, Frank Gregorsky, thought Gingrich would have served Trump well because both men think outside the box.

"He's been a professor all his life, and he's always been a student all his life, which tends to transcend" politics, said Gregorsky, author of the new book Elephants in the Room.