After a thorough beatdown in the Iowa caucuses last night, Newt Gingrich turned this morning to Miami, announcing a new gala fundraiser at the Biltmore that he hopes will re-energize his presidential campaign. Too bad Newt can't ring up legendary Miami arms merchant Sarkis Soghanalian, who died in October.
Turns out Gingrich and Miami's favorite "merchant of death" used to be so tight that the FBI launched a probe into whether Newt offered to help lift sanctions against Iraq (so Soghanalian could collect a weapons debt from Saddam) in exchange for cash.
The crazy but true story was recently dug out of the archives by New York Magazine, which republished a 1997 memo from Miami's FBI office about Soghanalian's allegations.
Soghanalian built an arms empire from his Hibiscus Island mansion in the mid-'80s when the CIA hired him to supply Saddam Hussein with weapons during the Iran-Iraq War.
With a Miami car dealer named Morty Bennett allegedly acting as a go-between with Marianne Gingrich, Newt's now ex-wife, Soghanalian told the feds he'd worked a deal to pay the speaker of the house $10 million for his help in lifting the Iraq embargo.
Soghanalian had an outstanding $80 million debt from Saddam he wanted to collect.
The feds had the Miami dealer feeding them information about the deal for years and got the go-ahead to record a Miami Beach fundraiser scheduled with Gingrich in 1997 where Soghanalian was supposed to get the politico himself to talk about the deal.
But the FBI called off the recording for reasons that aren't clear, and the case was dropped.
The Public Education Center recently spoke with Marianne Gingrich, who admitted she had met with Soghanalian in Paris, but she claims the two only talked about raising money for a firm she was working for, the Israel Export Development Corporation.
So here's the real question today: Who wants to wiretap Gingrich's fundraiser at the Biltmore next week to find out what kind of shady Miami characters he's bilking cash from these days?
Read the FBI's full memo below (which, we swear, was not culled from a James Ellroy novel):
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