San Diego Union Tribune

December 22, 2005

Special counsel will investigate Cunningham

By Toby Eckert
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence Committee will hire a special counsel to lead its investigation into whether former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham used his position on the panel to benefit defense contractors, the panel's leaders said yesterday.

The rare move came after the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice, complained that a plan to use the panel's Republican-dominated staff for the investigation would compromise its integrity.

It also appears to signal a more thorough review than the one being conducted by the House defense appropriations subcommittee. That is the other key panel that Cunningham, R-Rancho Santa Fe, belonged to before he resigned last month after confessing to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors in return for steering federal contracts to their companies.

However, Harman and committee chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said in a joint statement that the probe will be "limited to Mr. Cunningham's activities internal to the committee," indicating it will not investigate intelligence agencies overseen by the panel.

"The inquiry will strive to determine whether Mr. Cunningham improperly used committee staff or resources to further the conspiracy identified in his plea agreement and whether staff furthered the conspiracy in any way," the statement said.

Cunningham was privy to secret information about intelligence programs and contracts. That has raised suspicions that he may have used his insider status to benefit Poway-based ADCS and Washington-based MZM, two companies involved in the scandal.

The committee will establish an inquiry team of one Republican counsel and one Democratic counsel, while the outside counsel conducts the probe. Hoekstra and Harman also asked the Justice Department to assign a nonpartisan investigative counsel to support the inquiry.

The Justice Department is continuing to investigate Cunningham and the contractors who bribed him.

"While the Justice Department has alleged no wrongdoing through the committee, an abundance of caution necessitates we undertake this joint inquiry," the lawmakers said. "Mr. Cunningham's actions were reprehensible and wrong; this inquiry will be thorough to be certain his taint did not spread to this committee."

Intelligence Committee spokesman Jamal Ware said Hoekstra and Harman have reached an agreement on who they would like to hire as special counsel, "but that name is not available for disclosure at this point."

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