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Gingrich: I'm not a lobbyist, just a citizen

Richard Shiro / AP

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at Tommy's Ham House in Greenville , S.C., on Wednesday.

 

 COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Newt Gingrich pushed back on a New York Times article published Wednesday that explored how he avoided the legal definition of “lobbyist” while still providing many of the services that registered lobbyists do.

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, taped Wednesday morning, Gingrich said that talking up issues important to his clients with former colleagues represented nothing more than his sharing personal opinions as a private citizen.

“If Newt Gingrich believes that and happens to also be working with companies who care about that, and I walk in to see friends of mine and talk about the issue, they’re responding to what Newt Gingrich believes,” he said.

He also addressed a specific instance in 2005, mentioned in the Times article, in which he held a press conference with Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Sen. Hillary Clinton to push for passage of a bill to increase the use of electronic health records.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is attracting large crowds in South Carolina. He has traveled across the state appearing at a number of town-hall style meetings. NBC's Ali Weinberg reports.

 While Gingrich said in 2005 after the press briefing, “We’re launching a bill,” he said on Wednesday that he was not advocating for specific legislation but simply using the shock value of appearing with two New York Democrats to bring attention to a shared priority.   

“We sent a signal we ought to have health information technology you could never have done if you were alone,” he said. “And so they want to say, well, isn’t that lobbying? No. That’s called being a citizen. As a citizen, I’m allowed to have an opinion. As a relatively famous citizen, I can broadcast my opinion in lots of places.”

In part of the interview that was cut from the broadcast version, Gingrich also stood by his comments about not having to lobby because he was already wealthy, although he said the statement “may have sounded a little bit too self-serving.”

“I made pretty good money out of speeches. I didn’t have to lobby. I had 13 New York Times bestsellers out of my 24 books, I was doing speeches, I had lots of things going on,” he said.

NBC watched part of the hour-long interview as it was taped at Tommy's Ham House in Greenville just after Gingrich gave a town hall there. 

GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have begun to engage each other with gentle jabs, suggesting they now see the nomination as a two-man race. Meanwhile, Herman Cain tried to rally enough support to stay in the race. NBC's Lisa Myers has more.