Five years ago, Newt Gingrich was a millionaire pundit and author, living quietly and comfortably in northern Virginia. More than a decade had passed since he took the speaker’s gavel in January 1995, and seven since he had left the House. By day, he led a consortium of private, for-profit policy groups, nicknamed “Newt World,” that advised corporations and institutions. By night, he appeared on Fox News, irritating lefty bloggers. The 63-year-old politico had it all — book contracts, speaking fees, and Beltway relevance.
But Gingrich wanted more. He saw Michael Moore and other liberal filmmakers using the silver screen for political purposes, and regretted the fact that conservatives rarely managed to compete. He wanted to establish a foothold in that intellectual marketplace, but at the time his cinematic life consisted of watching John Wayne movies on his couch — and K Street connections mean little in Hollywood.
In the winter of 2006, Gingrich was promoting his book Rediscovering God in America, still unsure of where to start pursuing his interest in film. A few months later, he found his answer at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), when he reconnected with David Bossie, a former Capitol Hill staffer and GOP operative. The two had once been close: Bossie, a young Whitewater investigator for congressional Republicans, would huddle with the speaker in the Capitol, talking politics and scandal. And then Gingrich fired him.
“Our relationship has had its up and downs,” Bossie says.
In May 1998, Bossie was released from his position on the House committee overseeing the Whitewater investigation. He was accused of selectively editing an audio transcript of an interview with Webster Hubbell, an incarcerated Clinton ally. In the heat of the Clinton-GOP wars, Gingrich was pressured by the press and House Republicans to rebuke Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, the investigation’s director, and Burton’s aides, especially Bossie. As the situation festered, President Clinton hammered Gingrich, who did not leap to defend Bossie or the edited tapes. He was frustrated with Burton’s management and blasted him during a closed-door conference meeting. “I’m embarrassed for you, I’m embarrassed for myself, and I’m embarrassed for the conference at the circus that went on at your committee,” he said, according to the Washington Post. Bossie was not merely fired — he was made the scapegoat, in the eyes of many Republicans, for various Whitewater-related problems.
That history lingered in the air as Bossie and Gingrich shook hands backstage at CPAC in 2007. “We literally hadn’t spoken in years,” Bossie says. But within minutes, any Whitewater-era bitterness had evaporated. “It was like old times,” Bossie says. “It was like that interval had never happened. We started to say, ‘We should be doing things together,’ wondering why we weren’t working together.” The two men, both of whom have gregarious, combative personalities, promised to build on the conversation. Little was said about the past, Bossie recalls: All talk focused on the future.
“Within a week or two, we met again, and, ever since, we’ve had a good run,” Bossie says. Around his office, film boxes are piled high, and cardboard movie posters line the wall. Gingrich-related paraphernalia, along with pictures of the many conservative stars with whom Bossie works, are scattered throughout the suite. The feeling is as much Hollywood as politics.