San Diego Union Tribune

October 18, 2006

THE CUNNINGHAM SCANDAL
Report: Millions steered to contractors

Intelligence panel's summary is released

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

 
bullet Cunningham's out, but his legislation awaits

WASHINGTON – Randy “Duke” Cunningham used his post on the House Intelligence Committee to authorize more than $70 million in funding for projects sought by defense contractors who bribed him, according to a report released yesterday by the committee's top Democrat.

In the fullest accounting yet of how the convicted former congressman used the Intelligence Committee to further his conspiracy, a summary of the findings of a committee investigation concluded that Cunningham and defense contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes “repeatedly sought to use (the committee) to facilitate the objectives of the conspiracy, particularly through requests for congressional funding ('adds' or 'earmarks') that benefited Wilkes, Wade and other companies.”

Cunningham was able to steer contracts to favored companies – including Wade's MZM and Wilkes' Poway-based ADCS – despite suspicions by committee staffers that some of the spending was suspect and a “waste of taxpayer money,” according to the report.

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One former committee staffer, Brant Bassett, had close relationships with Wilkes, Cunningham and Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, the former No. 3 official at the CIA, who is under federal investigation for his ties to Wilkes, committee investigators found.

Bassett, who previously worked with Foggo at the CIA, introduced Foggo to key House Intelligence Committee staff members and they “sought to motivate various (committee) members to take desired actions by, among other things, providing them with gifts of 'government trinkets' such as a carpet emblazoned with the words 'Global War on Terror,' ” according to the report.

Foggo also introduced Bassett to a business executive around the time Bassett was thinking about leaving the committee for the private sector in 2003, the report found. The business executive, whose name has not been released, is also under investigation in the Foggo case.

While the investigators said they could not determine whether there was any wrongdoing involved in the gifts or the meeting, they recommended further investigation.

In a statement accompanying the executive summary, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice, the ranking Democrat on the committee, criticized committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., for refusing to subpoena Cunningham, who is serving more than eight years in prison on conspiracy and tax evasion charges.

Cunningham, a Rancho Santa Fe Republican who resigned from Congress in December, has admitted accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.

“A subpoena will increase the likelihood that we will obtain Cunningham's testimony and his cooperation,” Harman said. “Given the extent of the damage he caused the taxpayers and our committee, sparing Cunningham the embarrassment of having to assert his Fifth Amendment rights is not a goal our minority members and I share.”

Hoekstra reported for the first time yesterday that Cunningham “has reached out to the committee and offered his testimony, a possibility the special counsel is still reviewing.”

Neither he nor his staff elaborated.

Harman chastised Hoekstra, saying in a written statement that “it is totally inappropriate for the Chairman to be in contact with Cunningham, which he has been.”

Hoekstra blasted Harman, saying that “the unilateral decision by Harman to break our bipartisan, written agreement to review the Cunningham matter by releasing an incomplete, internal committee document that has not been reviewed by other committee members is disturbing and beyond the pale.”

Harman said the public had a right to see the conclusions of the committee's investigation, which was conducted by a special counsel and completed in May. She said she had been pushing for months for the committee to produce an unclassified version of the report.

Only the five-page executive summary of the report was released yesterday. The full 59-page report remains classified.

The House Appropriations Committee, on which Cunningham also served, has rebuffed requests for information from House Intelligence Committee investigators.

The Appropriations Committee is headed by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, who is under federal investigation for his ties to former San Diego Republican Rep. Bill Lowery, a lobbyist who secured funding from the committee for his clients.

The Defense Department, which managed many of the programs for which Wilkes and Wade received contracts, “has been unwilling to share additional information to date, due to the pending criminal investigations,” the report said.

In 2003, Cunningham secured crucial House Intelligence Committee support for a new initiative in the Pentagon's top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, program, to be run by MZM.

Guilty plea

Wade pleaded guilty in February to giving Cunningham more than $1 million in bribes and is awaiting sentencing, which has been delayed while he continues to cooperate with investigators.

Wilkes has not been charged.

The Appropriations Committee's refusal to cooperate with the special counsel raises questions about the role of Lewis, who from 1999 to 2005 was chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, on which Cunningham served. The subcommittee oversees the budget for intelligence operations. At the beginning of 2005, Lewis became chairman of the full Appropriations Committee.

The committee's unresponsiveness appears to contradict Lewis' public statement that he would “welcome a thorough review” of the funding associated with Cunningham's bribes.

After Cunningham's guilty plea, Lewis resisted calls for the Appropriations Committee to conduct its own investigation.

Lewis instead ordered an informal review of Cunningham's earmarks and said he was satisfied that they were all legitimate.

The report released yesterday does not identify the Intelligence Committee staff members who assisted Cunningham's requests benefiting Wade and Wilkes.

While the summary says “additional inquiry is warranted,” it stops short of recommending that any staff members be referred to federal law enforcement agencies for possible criminal investigation.

“We have found no evidence that any (committee) staff members, current or former, profited, sought to profit, or expected to profit personally from any of the funding requests in question,” stated the report. “We also have found no evidence that any (committee) staffer was aware of, or in any way participated in, any financial inducements provided to Cunningham by Wilkes, Wade or anyone else.”

Several crucial witnesses, including Wilkes and Wade, were not interviewed as part of the investigation.

After Sept. 11

The summary spotlighted Intelligence Committee staff support for projects at the Counterintelligence Field Activity agency, which was set up in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to protect U.S. defense facilities. The programs were designed to benefit Wade.

“Because of Cunningham's insistence, (committee) staff agreed to support this project, despite staff's concerns that it was a 'pork barrel' project and a waste of taxpayer money.

“Over time, (committee) staff learned of numerous 'red flags' associated with the counterintelligence project, including frequently expressed questions about the ethics and integrity of Wade, doubts about the value of the project and MZM's performance, and grave concerns about the propriety of the Cunningham-Wade relationship.”

Despite all that, the summary says, the staff continued to support the program.

“In light of this Report,” Harman said in her statement, “our Committee must examine why 'red flags' did not trigger greater scrutiny of Cunningham's activities, and what can be done to prevent this type of abuse in the future.”

The report does not discuss the possible culpability of any member of the committee, including Hoekstra, who as chairman is responsible for the committee's activities. The scope of the report was limited to staff, not the lawmakers themselves, according to the summary.

The release of the report comes amid a flurry of congressional ethics cases setting a troubling backdrop for incumbents in Congress just weeks before the midterm election.

On Friday, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in connection with his dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. On Monday, FBI agents raided six locations as part of a corruption investigation targeting Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. Also on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that he would amend his ethics reports to Congress to more fully account for a Las Vegas land deal.

Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who famously stashed cash in his freezer, is the target of a continuing bribery investigation.

Union-Tribune news services contributed to this report.

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