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Federal File: Facing History

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The House historian fired last year by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has sued the Georgia Republican and three Democrats for $16.7 million.

In a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, Christina Jeffrey accused them of damaging her reputation by falsely portraying her as a Nazi sympathizer.

In addition to Mr. Gingrich, the suit names Reps. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and the speaker's press secretary, Tony Blankley.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Gingrich said the House general counsel is handling the issue. Mr. Frank was less reticent. In an interview, he called the suit "an outrageous abuse of the legal process."

"I will resist this completely," he said, but added: "Being sued by her will probably enhance my reputation in certain circles."

After the GOP took control of Congress in January 1995, Mr. Gingrich hired Ms. Jeffrey as the House historian at a salary of $85,000. A few days later, press reports raised questions about comments she made as a reviewer for the Department of Education.

In 1986, she was asked to review applications for National Diffusion Network grants. In what critics charged was an effort to impose conservative ideological criteria on the dissemination program, the review panel rejected a Holocaust curriculum called "Facing History and Ourselves."

When publicized, written comments made by Ms. Jeffrey, then known as Christina Price, created a furor. (See Education Week, Sept. 14, 1988.)

"The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view, and it is not presented" in the curriculum, she wrote. "Nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan."

Ms. Jeffrey has said that her comments were taken out of context, and that she criticized the curriculum for failing to explain events in context. The program got a grant years later.

After she was named the House historian by Speaker Gingrich, the controversy resurfaced. Mr. Gingrich soon fired her. (See Education Week, Jan. 18, 1995.)

News reports said Ms. Jeffrey's lawsuit was motivated both by damage to her reputation and Mr. Gingrich's reluctance to address the issue.

--Mark Pitsch

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