It is a story that has dogged Newt Gingrich throughout his political career: when his first wife, Jackie Battley, was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery in 1980, Gingrich showed up at her bedside to ask for a divorce.
Gingrich has always denied this story. His Web site calls it a vicious lie and completely false. One of his and Battley's daughters also wrote a column defending her father, in which she says that it was Battley, not Gingrich, who wanted a divorce, and that the discussion took place long before Battley's surgery.
It was a classic example of he said, she said -- until now.
Court Records Show Gingrich, Not Battley, Filed For Divorce
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, CNN published court documents from Gingrich's and Battley's 1980 divorce, and these documents indicate that it was, in fact, Gingrich who requested the divorce: in a complaint filed in Carroll County, Ga., on July 14, 1980, he called his marriage to Battley irretrievably broken.
A spokesman for his presidential campaign acknowledged that Gingrich had filed the court papers, but maintained that it was Battley who wanted the divorce.
Carroll County Georgia court documents accurately show Newt Gingrich filed for a divorce from his wife Jackie Battley, but it was Jackie Battley who requested the divorce, the spokesman, R.C. Hammond, told CNN. Gingrich, her husband, obtained legal counsel and filed the divorce papers initiating the legal proceedings.
But the court documents contradict that version of events, too.
Defendant shows that she has adequate and ample grounds for divorce, but that she does not desire one at this time, Battley said in a motion for contempt. She acknowledged that she and Gingrich had been trying to work out temporary alimony and child custody arrangements outside of court, but added, Defendant does not admit that this marriage is irretrievably broken.
Battley Said Gingrich's Divorce Filing Was 'A Complete Surprise'
Battley has declined all interview requests since Gingrich launched his presidential campaign, but in a 1985 interview, she said of the divorce, He can say that we had been talking about it for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise. She added that Gingrich wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was recovering from the surgery, but it was not clear whether that was the first time he had brought up the subject of divorce.
Their daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, wrote in a column in May that when she and her father visited Battley in the hospital, my mother and father were already in the process of getting a divorce, which she requested.
It may be the case that Gingrich and Battley were already considering a divorce at that point, and that the bedside conversation did not happen exactly as reported. However, it seems clear from the newly released court documents that Battley was not the one who requested the divorce.
Gingrich married his second wife, Marianne Ginther, less than a year after divorcing Battley, and he has acknowledged that he and Ginther began an affair while Gingrich and Battley were still married. Nineteen years later, he divorced Ginther and married his current wife, Callista Bisek. He and Bisek, then a congressional staffer, had been having an affair while Gingrich, then speaker of the House, was pursuing impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.