Bribery charges could indicate trouble for unindicted members

Indictments handed down to two major allies of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) earlier this week provide clues about other evidence and material federal prosecutors are seeking from Congress and which members could face more legal trouble in the wide-ranging bribery investigation.

In between the more lurid details about prostitutes, hundreds of thousands in cash payments and luxurious trips to Hawaii and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho included in the indictments of defense contractors Brent Wilkes and his longtime friend, former top-ranking CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, are eight references to letters Cunningham sent members of the Appropriations, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Armed Services committees requesting tens of millions of dollars in contracts for Wilkes’ companies. Cunningham served on each of the panels.

The indictments do not include the panels’ responses to these requests; and that is, in all likelihood, because prosecutors were having a difficult time convincing Congress to hand over the relevant records – until recently. In December, the U.S. Attorneys office in San Diego issued a series of subpoenas for records to the three committees. Also late in the year, prosecutors served subpoenas for testimony to two key staffers: one who worked as Cunningham’s executive assistant and another who worked for the Appropriations Defense subcommittee, which was chaired by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) during many of the time periods in question.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been in discussions with the House General Counsel’s office and the bipartisan legal advisory group about whether to work with prosecutors and provide access to the hundreds of pages of material requested or decide to protect the documents by invoking the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause, a separation-of-powers protection that has been used in the past to protect congressional information from judicial inquiry.

Earlier this week, a Democratic aide said discussions are “still ongoing” and the two sides hope to resolve the matter as soon as possible. Of the eight letters of request, four were sent to the House Appropriations panel and the indictment specifically mentions one sent to the chairman of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee.

“On or about July 31, 2001, in support of defendant Wilkes’s request for Congressional Appropriations, coconspirator Cunningham wrote the chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee seeking to maintain the level of funding for his ‘earmarks,’” the indictment states.

In another instance, the indictments mentions that “on or about May 1, 2000” Cunningham’s legislative director sent a memo to a House Appropriations Committee staffer indicating that two programs that funded Wilkes’s contracts, were among the congressman’s “highest priorities.”

The indictment also references a letter Cunningham sent in late May 1998 to the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on national security, requesting a total of $64 million for Wilkes’s Document Conversion Programs for fiscal year 1999.

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) chaired that subcommittee until late November 1998 when Lewis moved into that post. The name of the panel was then changed from national security to defense subcommittee, although the indictment does not reflect that the name was changed in 1999.

On or about May 21, 1999, co-conspirator Cunningham wrote the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on national Security, requesting a total of $94 million for the Document Conversion Program for fiscal year 2000, specifying that the funding was to be used for a Panama-based document scanning project, which had been using Wilkes’s company, ADCS, as the prime contractor.

According to the indictments, Cunningham sent the House Armed Services Committee a series of letters.

For instance, in mid-April 2000, Cunningham wrote the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on another Wilkes’s project related to the Global Infrastructure Data Capture program, for which he requested a total of $16 million. At the time, Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.) was chairman of the Armed Service Committee. Spence died in 2001.

But the indictment includes multiple letters sent to the House Armed Services Committee chairman when Cunningham’s close friend, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), was the panel’s chief.

On or about Sept.15, 2004, coconspirator Cunningham sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on behalf of Wilkes’s alleged coconspirator Mitchell Wade seeking the “Chairman’s support in obtaining $16 million in funding for the Counterintelligence Deception Program during the 2005 conference negotiations.”

In 2005, Cunningham wrote two letters: one to Hunter seeking $25 million in funding for what is referred to in the indictment as the MRG program during the 2006 budget cycle, and another to the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence urging his support for the same program. Former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), who went on to become CIA director before resigning last May, was chairman of the Intelligence panel at the time.

Lawmakers contacted for this article did not comment by press time.

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