Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Duke of discussion: more Republican sleaze

There hasn't been any Tom DeLay news lately, but there's never a shortage of Republican sleaze and corruption. The latest story is that of Randy "Duke" Cunningham. (Josh Marshall has been all over it.)

Cunningham represents California's 50th District, in northern San Diego County. A couple of years ago he made a lot of money when he sold his house. That's no big deal in California's bubbly real estate market. It's interesting that the buyer, Mitchell Wade, is a defense contractor Cunningham has supported.

And it's a big deal because after Wade bought the house, two things happened. Wade resold the house and took a loss of over $700,000. And Wade's company, MZM Inc., got a lot of government business, overseen by the defense appropriation subcommittee Cunningham sits on. Other details make it clear that this is the most obvious case of political bribery since the ABSCAM videotapes.

Cunningham promised a full explanation, but has been silent for many days. Wade has been unable to find a telephone for over a week. The FBI and a federal grand jury are investigating.

It looks like Congress won't look into the matter because Tom DeLay's allies have crippled the House Ethics committee. Pete Stark (D-CA) ran a satirical ad saying "Attention Powerful Lobbyists! House for Sale By Influential Member of Congress ."

Darrell Issa, a Republican representing a neighboring district, tried to defend Cunningham, but didn't do very well:
"Wade was either a fool (as a businessman) or a fool in how he tried to curry favor," Issa said. "He accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, but that doesn't mean Duke was in on it."
This interpretation is awesomely fragile:
  • "Too stupid to realize he's being bribed" is the weakest defense since Marion Barry said (after smoking crack on camera) "Goddamn bitch set me up."
  • It wasn't an arms-length transaction. Cunningham and Wade appear to be buddies: Cunningham's DC residence is aboard a yacht Wade bought for him.
  • Darrell Issa is a poor choice for a character reference. He's been accused of car theft. Three times.


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