Friday, May 12, 2006
As Dean Calbreath and Jerry Kammer report in the San Diego Union Tribune, then-Congressman Duke Cunningham received a desperate letter via fax from Brent Wilkes on July 6, 1999. Wilkes is one of the defense contractors whose bribery payments to Cunningham put Cunningham in prison for 8 years.
In 1999, Wilkes was trying to obtain a contract from the Department of Defense for his company ADCS to convert documents in the Panama Canal Zone. He had given over $100,000 in campaign contributions to key members of Congress over the previous year in pursuit of the contract, including $26,000 to the Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Jerry Lewis (CA-41).
The DoD didn't want the document conversion, so Wilkes was forced to resort to congressional pressure to make it happen.
But that pressure had not yet been brought to bear when Wilkes wrote the letter (scroll down to page 75) to Cunningham. Wilkes' tone is assertive and emphatic:
WE NEED $10M MORE IMMEDIATELY
IF NECESSARY TAKE MONEY OUT OF [blacked out] PROGRAM
DEOBLIGATE MONEY IF NECESSARY
. . .
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT AND IF YOU DO NOT RESOLVE THIS OTHERS WILL BE
CALLING ALSO, i.e. [blacked out] [blacked out] ETC.
First, as to the blacked out names: As we picked up looking at the letter (as did a reader of Laura Rozen's War and Piece), the two names at the end of the letter aren't entirely blacked out. The first name clearly begins DUN and is about 13 characters long. The second name is less discernible, but appears to begin with J and end with S, and take up about 11 characters.
As Peter Pae reported in the Los Angeles Times and Calbreath and Kammer report in the SDUT, federal investigators are looking into Rep. Jerry Lewis as part of the Cunningham scandal. From 1993-2005, Lewis received $88,252 from Wilkes and his associates, #3 in Congress behind Cunningham and Rep. John Doolittle, both of whom admittedly steered millions of dollars in federal contracts to Wilkes. He served as chair of the most important committee for Wilkes' efforts to get federal defense earmarks. Lewis is likely the second blacked-out name.
Wilkes' campaign contributions also shed light on the identity of the first blacked-out name. Coming in at #5 on the Top 10 congressional recipients of Wilkes' campaign contributions is . . . Congressman Duncan Hunter, who received $43,200. As Representative of the 52nd Congressional District of California, Hunter is Brent Wilkes' representative in Congress. Er, official representative. Um, the guy Wilkes would have voted for.
Hunter was taking money from Wilkes as early as 1994, when Wilkes worked for Audre Inc., a document conversion firm based in the San Diego area. After receiving more than $7,000 in contributions from Audre employees, Hunter helped facilitate some $190 million in congressional funding for document conversion, Wilkes' bread-and-butter.
So, Hunter and Lewis.
Who the ETC. are remains uncertain, but we would suggest that a look at the recipients of campaign contributions from Wilkes is a good place to start looking.
Second point, the tone of the fax: what is Wilkes doing using ALL CAPITALS in a communication to a SITTING CONGRESSMAN? Very few members of Congress have the sort of temperament which permits the use of such emphasis, let alone the demanding tone which Wilkes uses. And Wilkes even orders Cunningham to "deobligate" funds from other programs if he has to, never an easy task in the horsetrading atmosphere of Congress: you pay Peter at Paul's expense.
The fax was sent in 1999, prior to any actual bribes which Wilkes paid to Cunningham, at least that have been reported. Why is Cunningham so under Wilkes' sway that Wilkes can treat Duke like his boy? Did Wilkes already have something on Cunningham? Where is the leverage coming from?
Third, why does Wilkes seem to threaten Duke with the possible involvement of Lewis and Hunter? Generally, if you start a statement with "If you do not X," and complete it with "others will Y", it's a threat. Again, see for yourself, but Wilkes seems to be using the potential involvement of Lewis and Hunter as a pressure point against Cunningham. So what if Lewis and Hunter carry the earmarks for Wilkes?
Campaign contributions obviously played a role in Wilkes' efforts to get contracts, as did outright bribery eventually. And recent reports have federal investigators examining whether prostitutes played some role in the Cunningham scandal. Was Wilkes already running some form of incentive-based bribery ring as early as 1998 or 1999, in which carrots were meted out or sticks avoided based on the direct help from members of Congress? And was that a zero-sum game, in which only so many opportunities were available and a Member was s.o.l. if he didn't come through in time?
Wilkes was well-connected within intelligence circles, particularly the CIA. Did Cunningham and other members of Congress equate pressure from Wilkes with pressure from the Agency? A phone call to the right person would tell them whether that was true. Did someone in the CIA vouch for Wilkes?
What is clear is that the Cunningham investigation has to date raised many more questions than it has answered. Federal investigators appear to be doing a thorough job of exploring possible corruption beyond Cunningham. Time will help determine whether their efforts are ultimately successful.