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Cunningham helped contractors, report says

WASHINGTON -- Former representative Randy ``Duke" Cunningham, who is in prison for accepting bribes, had 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 yesterday by the committee's top Democrat, said Cunningham had exploited weaknesses in the system for monitoring secret federal spending.

It said 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 Representative Jane Harman, its top Democrat, unilaterally released the five-page document after months of disagreement with Representative Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who chairs the committee. 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 co-conspirators -- 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 ADCS Inc., based in San Diego.

Cunningham's lawyer, Lee Blalack, and Wade's lawyer, 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 weren't contacted for the investigation.

Wilkes's lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment.

The House Intelligence Committee is charged with laying out intelligence spending priorities in an annual authorization bill, based on requests from lawmakers and government agencies. It then falls to the House Appropriations Committee, where Cunningham was also a member, to approve the spending.

Intelligence authorization bills are often quite broad, but some members are skilled at steering money to certain businesses.

The investigator said the committee authorized $70 million to $80 million in funding over five years that had been requested by Cunningham on behalf of Wilkes and Wade. When the legislation did not specify that the money go to companies associated with the two contractors, Cunningham still found ways to steer the funds by making his views known or using narrowly tailored language.

In one case spanning three years, Cunningham got the committee to direct to MZM a contract with a Pentagon unit called Counterintelligence Field Activity, despite aides' worries that it was a ``pork barrel project and a waste of taxpayer money," the report says.

The investigator said the committee's ability to conduct oversight of the work ``appears to have been seriously impeded by the corrupt conspiracy between Cunningham and Wade."

The executive summary also acknowledges questions that remain unanswered:

Stern's request to interview Cunningham has never been granted. Harman and Hoekstra wanted to subpoena him, but Hoekstra didn't want to issue a subpoena only to have Cunningham invoke his Fifth Amendment protections, as his lawyer has said he would do. Hoekstra said discussions are continuing about Cunningham's testimony.

Stern said ``significant information" has remained out of reach. The House Appropriations Committee did not respond to requests to interview some of its staff, and follow-up requests to the Pentagon regarding some of its contracts have not been met.

The report sees a need for law enforcement and national security agencies to examine Cunningham's dealings with foreigners. ``While our review has not identified any national security breaches resulting from the Cunningham conspiracy, we are aware of dealings that Cunningham had with certain foreign nationals," it said.

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