The Dukestir sings

Duke Cunningham spills his guts and Congress zips its lips.


Published July 18, 2007 4:39PM (EDT)

The last I'd heard, Duke Cunningham was being the tough-guy flyboy we'd all known and loved and was refusing to cooperate with investigations into his Byzantine world of bribes, kickbacks and hookers. Apparently, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune, he changed his mind:

In two days of prison interviews with federal agents this year, disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham described a level of corruption on his part more extensive than previously known and dealt a potentially devastating blow to the defense being waged by one of the defense contractors alleged to have bribed him.

This leads to speculation that Cunningham will be a featured witness in the upcoming trials. Pass the popcorn.

In his prison interviews with investigators, as summarized by the FBI, the former congressman is reported to have:

Insisted there were no prostitutes at Wilkes' Washington poker games, but said [Brent] Wilkes hired prostitutes for him during a Hawaii vacation. Cunningham was miffed that Wilkes got the "younger and cuter" prostitute and said he was "somewhat embarrassed on this occasion because he had some difficulty in completing intercourse." On the next night, Cunningham again had a prostitute but said he "did not have sex" with her "because he felt guilty about his behavior."

Said that among the many weapons Wade bought him was a Glock handgun, which he kept in a box on his boat -- in apparent violation of D.C. laws.

Said he tried to make peace between [Mitchell] Wade and Wilkes when the two former friends fought over contracts.

The stories of guns and sex and catfights among Duke and his criminal pals are juicy fun and well worth reading about, but there is something much more serious buried in all this. He:

Openly "recalled exerting pressure on government officials" to reward his bribers ...

Had to find ways to get around objections from Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, both of whom tried to block Cunningham's spending projects for Wade and Wilkes as wasteful and unneeded.

Those claims track with the information in this article from a couple of days ago in the L.A. Times:

An internal investigation that the House Intelligence Committee has refused to make public portrays the panel as embarrassingly entangled in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal.

The report, a declassified version of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, describes the committee as a dysfunctional entity that served as a crossroads for almost every major figure in the ongoing criminal probe by the Justice Department.

The document describes breakdowns in leadership and controls that it says allowed Cunningham -- the former congressman (R-Rancho Santa Fe) who began an eight-year prison term last year for taking bribes and evading taxes -- to use his House position to steer millions of dollars to corrupt contractors.

When the committee's investigation was completed last year, the Republican-controlled panel would not release the results; now that the committee is controlled by Democrats, it still will not release the findings ...

Congressional sources said Reyes and other Democrats had initially voted to let other members of Congress see the document, but reversed course after a fierce protest by the panel's ranking GOP member, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan.

"They are so nervous about this report being out," said one congressional official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Members oppose putting this thing out because you read this and the natural question is: 'Did you know this, and what did you do about it?' I don't think any members wanted that scrutiny."

That's hardly surprising. But it's also curious considering that the report scrupulously avoided looking at lawmakers:

The report's principal author said in an interview that the terms under which he was hired to conduct the investigation prevented him from examining lawmakers' roles.

"There was an agreement as to what they wanted to look at, and that was not anything that could be looked at under the sun," said Michael Stern, a former attorney in the House counsel's office who was hired by the committee to lead the internal probe. "The language did not include the culpability or potential involvement of other members."

Only their staffs, apparently -- and everyone assumes the staff must have told the bosses.

This is a rock that needs to be turned over. The House Intelligence Committee wasn't building bridges to nowhere. They were handing out contracts for national security purposes, and allowing the Dukestir and his buddies to dip their grubby mitts into that arena was a very dangerous thing to do.

And then there is the ongoing question of Cunningham's involvement in this little episode. All roads lead to Dick Cheney in the end, don't they?



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