Disgraced congressman helped contractors get tens of millions in favorable earmarks

Disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham parlayed his seat on the House Intelligence Committee into at least $70 million in business for two contractors who in turn paid him millions in bribes, an investigator hired by the panel has concluded.

The investigator's report, released Tuesday by the committee's top Democrat, found that Cunningham, a California Republican, had exploited weaknesses in the system for monitoring secret federal spending.

It said that he and at least one associate secured the cooperation or at least the acquiescence of many people. They included members of Congress and their aides who handled bills that directed money to certain programs, Pentagon officials who awarded the contracts and officials at agencies where the contract work was done.

"This was a lot of people to persuade, cajole, deceive, pressure, intimidate, bribe or otherwise influence to do what they wanted," the report's executive summary says.

In a sign of partisan divisions on the committee, California Rep. Jane Harman, its top Democrat, unilaterally released the five-page document after months of disagreement with the committee's chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra. Together, the two had initiated the investigation, led by special counsel Michael Stern, and had hoped to release the findings jointly.

Harman said the committee must examine why "red flags" did not trigger greater scrutiny of Cunningham's activities, and she added that she and Hoekstra had worked on internal changes that must be made permanent. "The goal should be to make certain that no Cunningham of either party should be able to soil our committee again," Harman said in an interview.

Hoekstra said Cunningham's efforts to enrich himself are "reprehensible" and Harman's decision to release an internal committee document "is disturbing and beyond the pale." Her action "underscores her personal decision to politicize the committee and this critical inquiry," he said.

Now serving a sentence of more than eight years, Cunningham pleaded guilty in November to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes from alleged coconspirators government contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes.

Wade, former president of MZM Inc., has also pleaded guilty to lavishing Cunningham with a yacht, cash, cars, antiques and meals over four years. Wilkes, who has not been charged, was the founder of San Diego-based ADCS Inc.

Cunningham's attorney, Lee Blalack, and Wade's attorney, Reginald Brown, both declined to comment on the report. Blalack said the committee has not provided him a copy of the document, and Brown said he and his client were not contacted for the investigation, reports AP.

Wilkes' attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.

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