Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) resigned from Congress yesterday after tearfully confessing to evading taxes and conspiring to pocket $2.4 million in bribes, including a Rolls-Royce, a yacht and a 19th-century Louis-Philippe commode.
A Vietnam War hero and eight-term congressman, the Duke sold his soul for, among other things, an antique toilet.
U.S. Attorney Carol C. Lam told reporters that Cunningham "did the worst thing an elected official can do -- he enriched himself through his position and violated the trust of those that put him there."
That pretty much says it all.
Except for this bit:
Prosecutors said Cunningham, an eight-term House member, "demanded, sought and received" illicit payments in the form of cash, home payments, furnishings, cars and vacations from four co-conspirators, including two defense contractors, over the past five years. (Italics added.)
That defense contractors were involved may be the most notable aspect of this story.
The L.A. Times' Tony Perry reports that…
According to documents filed in federal court, Cunningham began receiving bribes in 2000 as his seniority gave him political power to influence the awarding of military contracts.
One of the named co-conspirators who bribed Cunningham was Mitchell Wade, founder of the Washington, D.C. based MZM Inc., a defense firm that has received $163 million in contracts over the past decade. Also named was Brian Wilkes, an associate of Wade's who was head of ADCS, another military contracting firm.
One can't help but suspect that this is merely the tip of the iceberg of the corruption that exists in the military-industrial-political complex. How much more illegal collusion between politicians and the arms industry will surface is difficult to predict. But keep in mind that scores of civilian leaders in the Department of Defense--like Gordon England and Donald Winter--are former executives of America's largest defense contracting companies.
Also keep in mind that while the U.S. now spends as much as the rest of the world combined on defense (roughly $500 billion predicted for 2006), our troops in Iraq still don't have all the armor and equipment they need.
At a news conference after his conviction, a visibly shaken Cunningham could barely read from his prepared statement as he admitted: "I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family."
Give the Duke a little credit. He didn't ask for a different judge, or caterwaul about the "criminalization of politics."
In fact, the Duke Cunningham story clearly illustrates the fallacy of this GOP mantra. The folks who criminalized politics aren't the ones who pressed charges. They're the politicians who committed crimes.