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Gingrich campaign plays defense on ties to Freddie Mac

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday.

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Newt Gingrich found his past work with Freddie Mac under scrutiny during last night's presidential debate, where the former House Speaker denied ever having lobbied for the mortgage giant.

CNBC debate moderator John Harwood pressed Gingrich as to why his firm received $300,000 from Freddie Mac in 2006 -- two years before the mortgage finance company was forced into government conservatorship under the weight of subprime loans. The question was maybe the toughest Gingrich has received this campaign cycle.

But Gingrich said he was only offering advice in his capacity as a historian, and he denied lobbying against pressure from the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress for Freddie Mac to scale back its backstopping of mortgages.

"I offered them advice on precisely what they didn't do," Gingrich responded. "I have never done any lobbying, every contract that was written during the period when I was out of the office specifically said I would do no lobbying, and I offered advice. And my advice as a historian...I said to them at the time: This is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.'

Today, the Gingrich campaign went a step further by issuing a written statement about the former Speaker's work for Freddie Mac.

"The Gingrich Group was hired to offer strategic advice to Freddie Mac on a number of issues," the statement says.

During numerous meetings between the Speaker and Freddie Mac, the statement also notes, "Gingrich advised that a business model that involved lending money to people with bad credit and no money down was unsustainable and a bubble, and that it was dangerous to buy securities made up of these mortgages."

But in 2008, the Associated Press reported Freddie Mac paid $11.7M to 52 outside lobbyists and consultants in 2006, including "power brokers" like Gingrich.

"Gingrich talked and wrote about what he saw as the benefits of the Freddie Mac business model," the AP reported as Freddie Mac was pushing back against the Bush Administration's worry the business was going to go under.

But the campaign doubled down today in its statement: "Speaker Gingrich did no lobbying of any kind, nor did his firm. This was expressly written into the Gingrich Group contracts."