August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

The signs were there during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Presented with a seemingly ideal opportunity to pummel President Clinton with his pet agenda of family values, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House, refused to submit to temptation. “This is about the rule of law,” he said during last year’s impeachment proceedings. “It’s not about scandals in the gossipy sense or sexual behavior.” Even close aides were perplexed. “We always marveled,” says one, “that he wasn’t more outspoken about the President’s affair.”

Now they have a fair idea why. Her name is Callista Bisek, 33, a $55,000-a-year scheduler for the House Agriculture Committee, a member of the choir at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and, most conspicuously, “the other woman.” Since he split from his second wife, Marianne, in May (he filed for divorce July 29), Gingrich, 56, has been spotted dining with Bisek, walking hand in hand with her along the Mall and visiting her red-brick row house in Arlington, Va. But the relationship has been gossip on Capitol Hill for some time. “We discussed this among ourselves six months or a year ago,” says one congressional staffer. “It’s like high school. Everybody knows who’s dating everybody else.”

Except, apparently, Marianne Gingrich, 48, who still lives in the home she and Newt bought in Marietta, Ga., in 1994. “I was shocked,” she says. “I had no idea.” Gingrich, who retired from Congress in January and now spends much of his time making speeches, declined to comment.

This isn’t the first time Gingrich’s own family values have been called into question. In 1980, while his 18-year marriage to his onetime high-school math teacher Jackie Battley was dissolving, Gingrich, then a first-term Georgia congressman, visited the hospital where Battley was recovering from uterine cancer, reportedly to discuss the terms of their divorce. (He later insisted that accounts of their talk were “grossly distorted.”) Battley, 63, the mother of his two daughters, Kathy, now 36, and Jackie Sue, 32, subsequently took Gingrich to court for paying what she considered inadequate support. Years after their marriage ended, rumors surfaced that Gingrich had had extramarital affairs during his early campaigns. “All I’ll say,” he responded at the time, “is that I have led a human life.”

Six months after their January 1981 divorce, Gingrich married Marianne Ginther, a county planner whom he’d met at a 1980 Republican fund-raiser. Their marriage, Marianne once told PEOPLE, “was difficult for quite a while.” The pair separated briefly in 1989. But when Gingrich was named Speaker in 1994, he declared his wife his “best friend and closest adviser.”

By then, according to published reports, he was already acquainted with Bisek, a 1988 music graduate of Luther College in Iowa, who until 1995 had worked for then-Wisconsin Congressman Steve Gunderson. Described by a colleague as “proper and cheerful, friendly and polite,” Bisek remains something of a mystery. That may change if Gingrich v. Gingrich gets messy. A Cobb County, Ga., Superior Court judge has given Marianne’s divorce lawyer John C. Mayoue permission to videotape a deposition from Bisek, to the obvious delight of some Gingrich critics. Gloats New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel: “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, let alone boulders.”

Anne-Marie O’Neill

Gail Cameron Wescott in Atlanta and Linda Killian in Washington, D.C.

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