Cunningham probe could lead to officials in Defense, intelligence

An investigation into the dealings of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., may implicate Defense Department and other agency officials who awarded contracts or were otherwise involved with funds channeled to corrupt contractors, according to a House inquiry.

The executive summary of an investigation by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was released Tuesday by ranking member Jane Harman, D-Calif. The summary offers insight into the findings of independent investigator, Special Counsel Michael Stern.

Stern was hired by Harman and committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., to examine the activities of Cunningham, who pleaded guilty last November to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes from contractors. Mitchell Wade, the former president of government contractor MZM Inc., pleaded guilty in February to bribing Cunningham and corrupting Defense Department officials

The investigation summary said that, to facilitate their illicit activities, the men needed to "secure the cooperation, or at least the noninterference, of many people," including the various Defense officials "responsible for execution of the money, awarding the contracts and preparing the statements of work; and officials of the agencies for which the contracts were to be performed."

"This was a lot of people to persuade, cajole, deceive, pressure, intimidate, bribe or otherwise influence to do what they wanted," Stern wrote in the report.

Despite the bipartisan origins of Stern's investigation, Hoekstra and Harman have battled over the release of the full report, which was completed in May and presented to the full committee shortly thereafter, according to a statement by Harman. In July, a 23-page unclassified version of Stern's original 59-page report was prepared, as well as the executive report that Harman released this week.

Hoekstra condemned that release as "disturbing and beyond the pale," stating that the inquiry hasn't been finalized pending review of an offer by Cunningham to give the committee information. But he also noted that Cunningham had indicated an intention to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to silence if forced to testify under oath.

According to the investigation summary, Cunningham used Intelligence Committee authorizations to channel contracts toward Wade and Brent Wilkes, an alleged co-conspirator and founder of defense contractor ADCS Inc., in exchange for bribes. The investigation found that committee staff "either actively cooperated with or did not resist" Cunningham's actions, and noted that he used his clout as a member of the Defense appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over several of the Intelligence Committee's key priorities to push his own agenda.

The report cited "red flags" associated with Cunningham's pet earmarks, and said committee staff were unable to conduct appropriate oversight over a Cunningham-backed counterintelligence project at an unspecified agency because project staff were reluctant to share negative information with the committee and committee staff were unwilling or unable to follow up on negative agency feedback when it was provided.

The summary indicated that former committee staffer Brant Bassett had relationships with Wilkes, CIA official Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who is under a separate investigation in the matter, and, to a lesser extent, Cunningham.

It also alluded to dealings between Cunningham and "certain foreign nationals," and a congressional official told the Associated Press that Stern had looked into two trips that Cunningham took to Saudi Arabia in 2004.

The main focus of the investigation, however, was not federal officials' roles, but the possibility of committee staff involvement. Spokesman Jamal Ware could not say how much detail the full report provides on the level of executive branch involvement. "It was not meant to be a federal review," Ware said.

He said Cunningham "made contact with the committee and made an offer to provide input" as long as he was not subpoenaed, and that the matter was under review by committee lawyers. He said he did not know when that matter would be resolved, or when the full investigation report might be released.

According to the summary, investigators requested information from Defense, CIA and the Director of National Intelligence and received listings of contracts linked to Wilkes and Wade, but Defense "has been unwilling to share information to date, due to the pending criminal investigations."

According to FedSpending.org, a federal spending database hosted by watchdog group OMB Watch, alleged co-conspirator Wilkes' company received $89.4 million in Defense and General Services Administration contracts between fiscal years 2000 and 2005, the entire time span available. Virtually all of those contracts were awarded in open competitions in which only one bid was received, or without competition, according to the database.

The contract database did not include information for Wade's company, MZM. FedSpending doesn't capture certain classified contracts, and the data is not guaranteed to be up-to-date or to accurately reflect agency contracting actions.

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