The Duke Cunningham story is right there on Page 6 of the plea agreement he signed, in paragraphs “b” and “c” under the heading “Methods and means of the conspiracy.” It says Cunningham used pressure and influence to award government defense contracts to two businessmen because they bribed him, not because it “was in the best interest of the country.”
That's the Duke Cunningham story in black and white, preserved for posterity in the U.S. judicial system.
In a teary news conference Tuesday, Cunningham apologized amid his guilty plea to charges that he conspired with these businessmen to defraud the government and the American public and cheated on his taxes.
We thought all along that Cunningham was merely a warmongering blowhard, a bigot and a jerk—turns out he's also a criminal fraud, a cowardly liar and a dangerous enemy of all U.S. military men and women risking their lives in service to their country.
Cunningham has long claimed to be some kind of super-patriot, bragging about his Vietnam War heroism and wasting everyone's time trying to ban flag burning, all the while childishly picking fights with other members of Congress, disparaging gay and lesbian Americans and championing health-and-welfare legislation only when it applied personally to him.
Now we know that between 2000 and 2005, he was carrying out what U.S. Attorney Carol Lam understatedly called a crime of “extraordinary audacity.” He was using his power and influence to enrich his partners in crime in exchange for expensive furniture, Persian rugs, antiques, jewelry and lots and lots of money. Meanwhile, Cunningham, a member of a gang—conservative Republicans—that loves to crow about protecting taxpayers, was hiding his ill-gotten loot from the government so he could cheat on his own taxes. It doesn't get much more sickeningly disgusting than that.
But the worst part of this appalling affair is that he sold his office in a way that imperiled the lives of the men and women he helped send to war. Cunningham arranged for his co-conspirators—identified in the press as Mitchell Wade, former owner of MZM Inc., and ADCS Inc. founder Brent Wilkes—to get many millions of dollars worth of defense contracts, presumably favored over more deserving companies. That's a frightening reality given that the work MZM has done for the Pentagon is primarily in the intelligence and counter-terrorism arenas.
All this, just so Cunningham could adorn wife Nancy with expensive jewelry and fill the Rancho Santa Fe mansion his partners helped him pay for with luxurious furnishings, including antique toilets (apparently nothing's too good for his fat, cheating ass). The sheer outrageousness of it boggles the mind.
Huge kudos to Marcus Stern, the talented Copley News Service investigative reporter who broke the news this past summer that Wade took a $700,000 loss on a house he bought from Cunningham-the loss turned out, in effect, to be one of the gifts the conniving congressman received. Big props also to U.S. Attorney Lam for acting on Stern's great work and investigating a fellow Republican's nefarious acts.
When the news of the home sales first broke, Cunningham, behaving like a cartoonish politician stereotype, lied to us all, saying he'd done nothing wrong. It appeared that the dumb, arrogant fucker thought he could get away with it even as the feds were closing in around him. He seems very much the cocky fighter pilot who considered himself invulnerable and entitled to whatever he wanted.
We believe that there's too many nonviolent criminals in prison; we recently argued that two convicted members of the San Diego City Council should be spared time behind bars because their incarceration would be costly to taxpayers and would benefit no one. But in Cunningham's case, he deserves whatever harsh sentence he gets and then some. He defrauded the government and taxpayers from coast to coast and betrayed his constituents here at home. He and other greasy politicians like him are abominations, affronts to the notion of democracy they claim to hold so dear.
We would suggest stripping him of his numerous war medals, but that's unrealistic, and it would be better for him to have to stare at them for the rest of his pathetic life and consider their emptiness.
Our message to Cunningham: Screw you, you abhorrent jackass. You should have spared us your weepy apology. You get no credit from us for coming clean. You are not forgiven.