Republicans Denounce Ex-Lawmaker - New York Times

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 29 - Concerned that the stain of former Representative Randy Cunningham's admission that he took bribes and evaded taxes could damage the party's prospects, President Bush and other Republican leaders issued strong denunciations of Mr. Cunningham's actions on Tuesday.

With several investigations focusing on top Republican officials and growing public unease over the war in Iraq and economic policy at home, party leaders moved to distance themselves and their party from Mr. Cunningham's felony plea.

Though some Republican officials said Democrats in Congress were equally guilty of questionable behavior, including lobbyist-paid trips and underreporting of campaign contributions, they acknowledged that Republicans, because they control the White House and Congress, are being held to a higher standard by many voters. They also expressed shock and embarrassment at the extent of Mr. Cunningham's wrongdoing, which the president described on Tuesday as "outrageous."

Mr. Bush, answering a question about Mr. Cunningham's resignation from a reporter in El Paso, said members of Congress must take their legal and ethical obligations seriously.

"The idea of a congressman taking money is outrageous," the president said. "And Congressman Cunningham is going to realize that he has broken the law and is going to pay a serious price, which he should."

Mr. Cunningham, an eight-term representative from San Diego, pleaded guilty on Monday to charges that he took at least $2.4 million in bribes to steer Pentagon contracts to two friends. He announced his resignation from Congress hours after entering his plea.

Representative David Dreier, the California Republican who heads the House Rules Committee, said Mr. Cunningham had violated the ethical standards of the House and was right to resign immediately.

"It is regretful that his great service to this country has been tarred by his actions," Mr. Dreier said in a statement.

The case intensified attention to charges of ethical and legal violations by members of Congress, including such influential leaders as Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Representative Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who was forced to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in Texas in September.

In addition, three of Mr. Cunningham's Republican colleagues in California have drawn scrutiny for possible violations of House ethics rules.

One of them, Representative John T. Doolittle, has acknowledged that his wife, Julie, who runs a marketing firm in Washington, has been subpoenaed in the federal investigation of the former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mr. Doolittle's former chief of staff, Kevin A. Ring, briefly worked for Mr. Abramoff after leaving Mr. Doolittle's Congressional office.

Mr. Doolittle's press secretary, Laura Blackann, said that Mr. Doolittle had not been contacted by the Justice Department in connection with the Abramoff investigation and that any dealings between the two men were proper and legal.

Another California Republican, Representative Dana Rohrabacher from Orange County, has acknowledged receiving a $23,000 option on a screenplay from a Hollywood producer who last month was charged with multiple counts of fraud in connection with an investment scheme.

Mr. Rohrabacher acknowledged introducing the producer, Joseph Medawar, to several officials in Washington, with the understanding that Mr. Medawar was working on a television series about the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Rohrabacher said that the House ethics committee had approved his screenplay deal with Mr. Medawar and that he was unaware of any possible fraud.

"I have not seen all the evidence," he said. "Whether he is a flamboyant incompetent or he's a con man will be determined by the jury."

A third California Republican, Representative Richard W. Pombo, has been criticized by Democrats as failing to report the value of two foreign trips paid for by a lobby group, paying family members from political accounts, and accepting campaign contributions from Mr. Abramoff and Mr. DeLay.

Mr. Pombo dismissed the accusations as partisan attacks.

Karen Hanretty, communications director for the California Republican Party, said the attacks were part of a broader assault on Republicans.

"There's always a roomful of researchers who are digging up dirt on the opposition," Ms. Hanretty said, "and that's just part of the political game, whether it's at the state level or the national level."

"The party that holds power in D.C. always comes under greater scrutiny," she said.

But accusations of ethical violations pale beside Mr. Cunningham's admitted criminal conduct.

According to his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Mr. Cunningham, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from two military contractors while helping them win Pentagon contracts.

Lawyers involved in the case identified the contractors as Mitchell J. Wade, founder of MZM Inc., a company he has since sold that provides intelligence services to the Pentagon and other government agencies, and Brent Wilkes, founder of a data processing company that did business with the Defense Department.

Prosecutors said the contractors also gave Mr. Cunningham hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts, including a Rolls-Royce, two 19th-century French commodes, four armoires, a wooden sideboard with turned wooden spindles, three nightstands, a necklace, a laser shooting simulator and $15,000 worth of Oriental carpets (described in court documents as "one Indo Herati, one Karaja, one Indo Keshan and two Cino Kerman rugs").

The contractors also paid for tens of thousands of dollars' worth of repairs to the Rolls-Royce and to Mr. Cunningham's boat, the Kelly C, and essentially bought the former congressman a $2.55 million home in the exclusive San Diego County community of Rancho Santa Fe.

Under the plea deal, Mr. Cunningham has to forfeit the house, $1.8 million in cash, and all the rugs and antiques.

Carol C. Lam, the United States attorney for the Southern District of California, called Mr. Cunningham's actions "a crime of unprecedented magnitude and extraordinary audacity." Ms. Lam said the investigation was continuing.

Calls to Mr. Cunningham's office were not returned. He made no public appearances on Tuesday.

John M. Broder reported from Los Angeles for this article, and Carl Hulse from Washington.


Post a Comment

<< Home