The Raw Story | Pelosi asks for Cunningham inquiry

11/30/2005 @ 4:34 pm
Filed by RAW STORY

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has written a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), requesting a congressional probe of disgraced California Representative "Duke" Cunningham, Roll Call is reporting.

Specifically, Pelosi is asking for a bipartisan committee with experience in national security to investigate Cunningham's recent admissions of guilt in a criminal case plea bargain. Cunningham has admitted to accepting inappropriate gifts from two defense contractors while serving on the House Intelligence Committee.

Pelosi asks that the committee determine whether or not Cunningham compromised national security or misused classified information in aiding the contractors.

Excerpted from Nov. 30 issue of Roll Call:

?[Cunningham] has admitted engaging in criminal conduct with private companies seeking contracts from the United States government for national security-related matters,? Pelosi wrote in her letter. ?We do not know the extent of the information which he provided to these companies, or how it may have compromised national security.?

Pelosi also wants Hastert to ask the Department of Defense, CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to conduct their own investigations into Cunningham?s relationship with MZM, Inc., and ADCS, Inc., two defense firms. Pelosi did not name the companies in her letter to Hastert, but the firms have been linked to Cunningham in media reports, and the Justice Department is continuing its own criminal investigation into his activities.


Cunningham allegedly received these illicit payments from Mitchell Wade, former owner of MZM, and Brent Wilkes, president of ADCS. Neither man was formally named in the plea agreement, although media reports and corporate records indicate that Wilkes and Wade are the ?Co-conspirator #1? and ?Co-conspirator #2? referred to in Cunningham?s plea deal.

With help from Cunningham and other lawmakers, ADCS has received at least $80 million in Pentagon contracts since 1999, while MZM won $160 million from the Defense Department over a three-year period. Democrats want to explore how those contracts were handled within the Pentagon and are not content to let Cunningham?s plea deal short-circuit any Washington, D.C.-based probe of the matter. Democrats are privately threatening to use other parliamentary maneuvers to force a Cunningham probe if their request to Hastert is turned down.


Print Story: Contractor spends big on key lawmakers on Yahoo! News

By Matt Kelley and Jim Drinkard, USA TODAY

A San Diego businessman under investigation in the bribery case of former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham is a well-known GOP fundraiser whose generosity to key members of Congress came at the same time his company saw large increases in its government contracts, public records show.

Brent Wilkes, the founder of defense contractor ADCS Inc., gave more than $840,000 in contributions to 32 House members or candidates, campaign-finance records show. He flew Republican lawmakers on his private jet and hired lobbyists with close ties to those lawmakers.

Wilkes' charitable foundation, which aids sick children and military families, honored congressmen at black-tie banquets and donated to their favorite causes. Wilkes was also a "Pioneer" for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, meaning he raised at least $100,000.

With help from two committee chairmen, ADCS got more than $90 million in government contracts since its founding in 1995, helping propel Wilkes from an obscure businessman to a millionaire prominent in Republican circles.

Neither Wilkes nor any other congressmen have been charged with crimes, and the donations and contributions are legal so long as they weren't intended to influence official actions. The links illustrate the connections between lawmakers who oversee defense spending and a contractor seeking some of that money.

Cunningham resigned Monday after pleading guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy to accept bribes. He admitted accepting $2.4 million in bribes from two defense contractors and two other businessmen in exchange for helping those companies get contracts. (Related story: Bribed congressman resigns, pleads guilty to charges)

Wilkes, whose home and company headquarters were searched by federal agents this year during the Cunningham investigation, wasn't named in the plea documents. The documents say "co-conspirator No. 1" spent more than $636,000 on Cunningham. Wilkes' attorney, Michael Lipman, acknowledged that his client is "co-conspirator No. 1." He declined to comment further about the case.

Contributions to chairmen

Since 1994, Wilkes and ADCS gave $40,700 in campaign contributions to Rep. Duncan Hunter (news, bio, voting record), a San Diego Republican who now chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Hunter has acknowledged that he joined with Cunningham in 1999 to contact Pentagon officials who reversed a decision and gave ADCS one of its first big contracts, for nearly $10 million. Hunter's spokesman, Joe Kasper, said the congressman was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Another California Republican, Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, led panels that ordered the Pentagon to continue programs that aided ADCS when Pentagon officials wanted to cut them. Lewis got $71,253 from Wilkes and his employees in donations since 1993. Wilkes gave Lewis donations and met him at various events, Lewis spokesman Jim Specht said, but "he never talked with him about a defense project."

Before becoming the Appropriations chairman this year, Lewis led the subcommittee that oversees defense spending. In the late 1990s, that panel directed the Pentagon to continue converting paper documents to computer records, the work that ADCS does. Pentagon officials had tried to end the program's funding.

The 1999 defense budget, for example, directed $45 million be spent on document conversion. Wilkes and his employees gave Lewis $7,000 in campaign contributions the day after his subcommittee's first hearing on the bill.

After the Pentagon declined to give ADCS a contract, it awarded the company a $9.8 million deal in mid-1999 after "inquiries from two members of Congress," a Defense investigation found. Hunter and Cunningham have said they asked Pentagon officials about the program.

The money went to ADCS instead of projects for the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, Air Force bases, and a parts center in Oklahoma, according to the report by the Pentagon inspector general, prompted by a request from a Defense official.

Valuable in-the-air time

Wilkes' ties to Hunter and Cunningham go beyond campaign contributions. In 2003, the businessman's foundation hosted a "Salute to Heroes" gala to give Hunter an award, just as it did for Cunningham a year earlier. The Wilkes Foundation gave $1,000 in 2003 to a charity run by two of Hunter's staffers, records show.

Wilkes also provided a jet that Cunningham and other Republicans used for more than a dozen flights to campaign fundraising events since 2001, records show.

Providing flights gives donors a chance for hours of one-on-one contact with the lawmaker they want to influence, said Keith Ashdown of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"Most other lobbyists would give up their second lung to get that kind of access," Ashdown said. "It's not always illegal, but it's definitely a strategy of influence that's unparalleled."

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.