A Republican pleads guilty; how many more?

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admits to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes.

Published November 28, 2005 7:25PM (EST)

When the question is Republican politicians facing legal problems, the answer is: It's getting awfully hard to keep up.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty today to a charge of conspiring to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud. In the process, the California Republican admitted to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes from a defense contractor and other co-conspirators. "He did the worst thing an elected official can do  he enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those who put him there," said U.S. Attorney Carol Lam. In a tearful appearance before the press a few minutes ago, Cunningham announced that he is resigning immediately from Congress. He said that he has forfeited the "trust of my friends and family" and vowed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that at least half a dozen other members of Congress are the subjects of an ongoing investigation into the dealings of indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Sources tell the Post that Ohio Rep. Robert Ney and his chief of staff have both been warned that prosecutors are preparing a possible bribery case against them. Other Republicans in investigators' sights? The Post identifies Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and California Rep. John Doolittle as well as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has already been indicted on an unrelated criminal charge in Texas.

DeLay's former press secretary, Michael Scanlon, has already pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the Abramoff probe and is helping investigators now. Authorities are still looking into the suspiciously timed stock sales of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. David Safavian, the top procurement official in the Bush administration and former chief of staff for Republican Utah Rep. Chris Cannon, has already been indicted. And there are so many state-level Republican officials under investigation that you really do need a scorecard to keep track.

And then there's the CIA leak case. The vice president's chief of staff has been indicted, and now Patrick Fitzgerald is talking about needing a new grand jury amid revelations that somebody leaked Valerie Plame's identity to Bob Woodward and more questions about what Karl Rove did or didn't tell the grand jury and why.

Christmas is still a month away, but for prosecutors around the country, Republican control in Washington is already the gift that keeps on giving.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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