By Roxana Tiron - 10/18/06 12:00 AM EDT
An executive summary of an internal House Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday by the panel’s top Democrat gives the fullest accounting to date of how disgraced ex-congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) used the intelligence panel and its professional staff to fund two defense contractors, who in turn, bribed him.
Cunningham, a former defense appropriator and chairman of the Intelligence terrorism, human intelligence, analysis and counterintelligence subcommittee, was able to obtain the intelligence panel’s authorization for up to $80 million in funding for projects requested by defense contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes.
The committee staff was fully aware that the funds were intended for a specific recipient and “either actively cooperated with or did not resist Cunningham’s efforts to steer the funds toward that recipient,” according to the report.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), took immediate offense to ranking member Rep. Jane Harman’s (D-Calif.) decision to release the summary, saying that the move shows “blatant disregard” for a bipartisan agreement they had made to fully review the Cunningham matter and charging her with politicizing the inquiry.
Harman (D-Calif.) released the five-page unclassified report three weeks before Election Day as Republicans are playing defense on several ethics fronts.
In a statement, Hoekstra said that Cunningham had “reached out to the committee and offered his testimony, a possibility the independent counsel is still reviewing,” noting that until a final determination can be made on whether Cunningham will testify, the inquiry cannot be considered complete.
Harman’s decision to release the summary and Hoekstra’s virulent reaction deepens a rift between the two that began months ago over whether Cunningham, who is now in prison, should be subpoenaed for the internal-panel investigation, which special counsel Michael Stern is conducting.
Harman has argued that the ex-lawmaker should be subpoenaed, but Hoekstra said subpoenaing him would not produce any new information because Cunningham would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In the meantime, Hoekstra contacted Cunningham in an effort he said was made to informally convince him to participate in the investigation — a move that Harman has called “totally inappropriate.”
In a statement, Harman said that earlier this month Hoekstra agreed that it would be “appropriate” for the committee to release the five-page executive summary and Harman said she invited Hoekstra to join her in releasing it.
“In light of this report, 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,” Harman said in a statement.
The web of corruption involving Cunningham, Wade and Wilkes has spread beyond the halls of Congress to the Pentagon and the CIA.
The report did not identify any specific national security breaches resulting from the Cunningham corruption, but it did find that Cunningham had dealings with certain foreign nationals, a discovery the committee expects the appropriate national security agencies and law enforcement officials to examine.
Cunningham’s status as a defense appropriator with the power to influence the intelligence panel’s key priorities and his willingness to pressure and intimidate individual staff members were key to the success of his funding requests to Wade, the owner of MZM Inc. and Wilkes, the owner of ADCS Inc., according to the report.
Wade pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiring to bribe Cunningham, among other crimes. Cunningham is already serving an eight-year jail term after pleading guilty in November to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from Wade and Wilkes. Wilkes has not been charged with any crimes and has not pleaded guilty.
As a consequence of the conspiracy between Wade and Cunningham, the ex-lawmaker obtained support in 2003 for a new project at the Counterintelligence Field Activity office, which helps identify and thwart terrorists and spies. Committee staff agreed to support the project despite concerns that it wasted taxpayers’ money.
Over time, aides also encountered numerous “red flags” with the new project, as well as with Wade’s ethics, but despite those signs, Intelligence Committee staff members continued to “accept and support Cunningham’s growing requests for this project from [fiscal year] ’03 through FY 06,” according to the report.
The conspiracy between Wade and Cunningham impeded the intelligence panel’s oversight over the project and the agency itself. The committee was reluctant to share negative information about MZM and when it did, “there was little that … staff was willing or able to follow up,” the report said.
But the report states that staff who dealt with Wade were, to varying degrees, suspicious of him and were not inclined to favor him other than the treatment they provided as a consequence of caving to Cunningham’s demands.
The report also sheds light on the relationship between Brent Wilkes, Brant Bassett, a former panel staff member and ex-CIA operative, and Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo, the CIA’s No. 3 officer, who resigned after federal investigators raided his house in connection with the Cunningham corruption investigation.
Porter Goss, the former head of the CIA and ex-chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who had a close relationship with Foggo, also resigned but insisted at the time that his decision to step down had nothing to do with the corruption investigation.
Bassett, also known as “Nine Fingers” after losing one digit in a motorcycle accident, served as staff director of the Intelligence Committee when Goss was the chairman. Bassett had a close relationship with Foggo, who has known Wilkes for decades. While on the committee, Bassett worked with Foggo “to achieve certain objectives relating to the management of the CIA, ” according to the report.
Bassett also introduced Foggo to key committee staff and they both sought to motivate those staffers to take certain desired actions by giving them government trinkets such as a carpet emblazoned with the words “War on Terror.”
“At this stage it is unclear whether these actions violated any law or regulation, but further inquiry is appropriate,” the report recommends.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department investigation of Foggo in the Cunningham matter includes awards of several large contracts to a company owner other than Wade and Wilkes. Foggo introduced Bassett to that individual in the spring of 2003 when Bassett was contemplating whether to leave the committee for the private sector.
“While we have not determined that Bassett had any involvement in the award[ing] of the CIA contracts either to Wilkes or to the other individual, we believe additional inquiry is warranted to determine whether Bassett or anyone else at the [committee] facilitated or was involved in any of the contract awards,” the report said.