How Did Newt Gingrich Get Such a Sweet Deal at Tiffany's?

Perhaps the opposition researchers who dumped that story about Newt Gingrich's $250,000-$500,000 "revolving charge account" at Tiffany & Co. only wanted people to make fun of his gilded lifestyle, but it also raises more concrete, scandalous questions. Namely: Why would Tiffany's give the Gingriches a no-interest credit account?

CBS' Bob Schieffer asked Newt Gingrich about the account over the weekend, and Gingrich curtly explained that it was a "standard, no-interest account." Now it's very possible that Gingrich was just making up that "standard, no-interest" line entirely, to avoid sounding like your run-of-the-mill idiot who takes on hundreds of thousands of dollars in consumer credit without considering the usurious interest rates that are attached. But what if he was serious about the terms of the account? Then, as the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler has explained, it would appear as though he got some sort of non-standard deal from the jeweler:

Then, we looked at the current installment credit application form posted by Tiffany on its Web site. That form shows an annual interest rate of 21 percent for the state of Virginia, where Gingrich and his wife live. That interest rate is charged if you do not pay the balance off in full within 25 days after the close of each billing cycle. [...]

We checked with credit-card experts. They said Gingrich's comments made little sense.

"It doesn't sound plausible to me," said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research at CreditCards.com. "Store credit cards almost never carry these kinds of terms, and it is highly unlikely for an exclusive retailer like Tiffany's." [...]

Gingrich's claim that he had a "standard, no-interest account" as part of the "normal way of doing business" appears highly dubious. Tiffany does not appear to provide such a revolving line of credit account to regular customers. And Callista Gingrich's disclosure documents clearly show the debt was carried for at least two years.

And what was Callista Gingrich doing during those years? She was a big wig over at the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over mining policy — an area where Tiffany's lobbyists were making a big push. From an excellent post at SpyTalk:

Filings by Tiffany's lobbyist, Cassidy & Co., and other government records show that the firm's spending on "mining law and mine permitting-related issues" in Congress, as well as the Forest Service, the Interior Department, and Interior's Bureau of Land Management shot up sharply between during the period when Callista Gingrich was chief clerk at the House Agriculture Committee.

Tiffany's annual lobbying expenditures rose from about $100,000 to $360,000 between 2005 and 2009, according to records assembled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan government watchdog organization.

So far, there's no smoking gun here for, you know... bribery. But this story is now more than a silly joke about Newt Gingrich covering himself in bling, like a clown.

[via Felix Salmon; image via AP]