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November 28, 2005

Cunningham pleads guilty, resigns

Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned today after pleading guilty to conspiring to take bribes and income tax evasion

Hat tip to TPM.


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Cunningham and MZM: The White House Connection

Today, Duke Cunningham pled guilty to receiving over $2 million in bribes from Mitchell Wade and his company, MZM Inc., in exchange for legislative favors. It’s worth noting that MZM also did some unusual business with the White House:

[O]ver the past three years it [MZM Inc.] was also awarded several contracts, worth more than $600,000, by the Executive Office of the President. They include a $140,000 deal for office furniture in 2002 and several for unspecified “intelligence services.”

Why did the White House hire MZM, a “defense and intelligence firm,” to buy office furniture for the White House?

I'm sure this will show up in other publications. But for the moment, I was just looking through the list of Duke Cunningham's offenses in the article (sub.req.) on the Roll Call website. And it's breath-taking.

The stuff we knew about, the boats and house purchases, were really only the tip of the iceberg.

In pure dollar terms the house scams may have been the biggest. But on many occasions Duke and the defense contractors who owned him didn't even cover with the flimsy real estate covers.

So for instance, here are some of the examples ...

On May 1, 2000, he took $100,000 in two separate checks from “Co-conspirator No. 1” depositing $70,000 into his personal bank account in San Diego and $30,000 into his account with the Congressional Federal Credit Union;


On Feb. 27, 2002, the co-conspirator believed to be Kontogiannis paid $10,000 to Cunningham, who deposited the money into his credit union account;


On Jan. 13, 2003, Wade paid $33,000 to Cunningham in two separate checks, money that went into his California accounts;

As I said, in dollar terms these weren't the biggest offenses. In audacity terms, they rate fairly high.

Cunnigham is v. good, Rove's new Fitzmas problems are better. The second day of Fitzmas is nigh!

Maybe he can get his son's (Todd) old cell. Todd might also help his old man make some money in the big house by hooking pops up with some of his old drug-dealing buddies in the cell block. Keepin' it all in the family, so to speak.

That's my congressman! Good riddance!

Jesus, our country is really falling apart. Kleptocracy.

That word has come to my mind in the last 24 hours, yes.

Gifts Rep. Cunningham Admitted Receiving

• $200,000 toward the purchase of his Arlington, Va., condominium.

• $140,000 to a third party for the "Duke-Stir" yacht, which was moved to his boat slip for his use.

• $16,867.13 to a marine services company for repairs to his own yacht, the "Kelly C."

• $12,000 paid to an antique store for three night stands, a leaded glass cabinet, a washstand, a buffet and four armoires.

• $6,632 paid to a furniture store for a leather sofa and a sleigh-style bed.

• $7,200 paid to an antique store for a circa 1850 Louis Phillipe period commode and a circa 1830 Restoration period commode.

• $13,500 toward the purchase of a Rolls-Royce.

• $17,889.96 for repairs to the Rolls-Royce.

• $11,393.56 paid to a moving company to ship his belongings from his Arlington condominium to his San Diego-area home.

• $2,081.30 paid to a Washington, D.C., hotel for his daughter's graduation party.

• $9,200 paid to a manufacturer for two Laser Shot shooting simulators.

• $10,000 paid to various hotels, resorts and restaurants for his meals and entertainment expenses.

• Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to him and a company he controlled.

In some ways it saddens me to see this happen though. While I do think the Cunningham should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, it's a tragedy in that such a distinguished hero would drop so far. But, he wasn't the first and he certainly won't be the last, especially if he gives his "full cooperation."

Duke is about bigger scandal, not just some congressman receiving bribe. Time to push the bigger story.


A few more points to mull about the Duke saga.

First, remember that "co-conspirator #1" in the charges against Duke is Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor who owns ADCS Inc.

In addition to various other bribes he gave Duke, Wilkes also rented a corporate jet which appears to have existed more or less entirely to ferry around members of Congress. Mainly Duke. But also Rep. Tom DeLay and Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt. Wilkes is also an '04 Bush Pioneer.

Also, it's pretty stunning to see members of Congress admit to good-old-fashioned bribes. Not campaign contributions or overseas junkets, but old-tried-and-true lump sum cash payments.

But bribes are a means to an end. So pay attention to the context. This is a defense contracting scandal. Defense contracting scandals get you into the Department of Defense, particularly in a case like this in which the contracts are top-secret military spending programs over which there is little or no oversight.

Today's Wall Street Journal editorial page title damns all to hell Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who yesterday pleaded guilty to taking bribes from defense contractors and resigned from Congress (see "Duke of the Beltway," Nov. 29).

Two-thirds of the way through its spanking of Cunningham the Journal reaches back 16 years to assert a moral equivalence between him and Jim Wright, the disgraced speaker of the House who was driven from office in 1989 by his own scandal. The page writes:

The next day, April 18, the page repeated its fears about the connection between incumbency and corruption:

Washington has become ethically loose because it has become so politically flabby. The incumbency rate in the House is now 99%. Real politics, unlike Washington's, includes real competition for an institution's seats of power. It includes accountability, so that challengers can criticize their opponent's votes. The current Washington system is designed to minimize these forces. No corporation or any other private institution could remain vibrant or viable for long without competition or accountability. Congress can't either.

Now that Republican incumbents have squeezed the political competition out of Congress, does the Journal still equate political flabbiness with corruption?

A couple of points to remember here. First, the old USSR's Supreme Soviet (their parliamentary body) had a hire turnover rate the Congress.

Unfortunately, we here in Kentucky are used to political scandal. The current Republican governor is in a nasty one right now. The previous Democratic governor was in a sex scandal and he ended up crying on TV and it likely cost him a U.S. Senate seat. Political corruption has a long and colorful history hear... so much so that there's still a prohibition on dueling in the state oath of office.

The other thing goes back to those big defense corporations. I recently read and article at the Toronto Star discussing some of economic and social conditions that led to fascism. Strong control by large corporations was one of those things.

So who else is in this scandal?

It's spreading.

Now there are Intelligence worries about Cunningham

This story keeps going:

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has asked committee attorneys to review former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's work on the panel to ensure he didn't improperly influence committee actions or decisions.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., ordered the review after learning of Cunningham's guilty plea Monday to charges of corruption and tax evasion for taking $2.4 million in bribes, mostly from two defense contractors, in exchange for steering government business their way, said committee spokesman Jamal Ware.

Hoekstra also ordered Cunningham's access to classified information terminated immediately, Ware said Wednesday.

So, how is it that a top White House staffer who violated national security still has access to classified info?

From the Center for Responsive Politics, a short primer on the other beneficiaries of Brent Wilkes' and Mitchell Wade's largesse:

...Political action committees controlled by MZM, Inc., which was founded by alleged Cunningham co-conspirator Mitchell Wade, and ADCS, Inc., which was founded by alleged co-conspirator Brent Wilkes, have contributed more than $1 million in the last 10 years to a roster of politicians, leadership PACs and party committees, including Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.), Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Tom DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority PAC and President Bush. Republicans have been the recipients of 95% of the two defense contractors' giving, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' analysis. ...

Here are the top recipients of MZM PAC and Wilkes Corp/ADCS PAC money.

Wow, this cunningham story just doesn't end.

The corruption level is deep.

As I first reported last week, the Randy "Duke" Cunningham corruption case may have links to Langley. The San Diego Union Tribune reports on the operations of Cunningham co-conspirator 1, Brent Wilkes, and his friendship going back to junior high with the man appointed by Porter Goss to be the CIA executive director, their private wine locker at a DC steakhouse, some hotel suites Wilkes paid for for entertaining congressmen, their time in Honduras, Wilkes' yacht anchored behind Cunningham's "Duke-stir," etc.:

...In 1999, Wilkes and his wife bought a $1.5 million home in the Poway hills. He soon bought a second home: a $283,500 town house in the Virginia suburbs near Washington, D.C. During his visits to Washington, he made his rounds in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. At the Capital Grille, a favored hangout of legislators and lobbyists, he rented a personalized wine locker with his best friend Foggo.


ne interesting detail the reporter Dean Calbreath found? Wilkes' ties to the Young Republicans (of Abramoff and Ralph Reed fame) while at San Diego State University. Go read.

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