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Over at Kevin Drums

Over at Kevin Drum's site I saw a link to this article about, or interview with, Marcus Stern, the guy who broke the Duke Cunningham story last summer. The San Diego CityBEAT interviewed him by phone from Pakistan where he's now on assignment for another story.

We now know something like a million things Duke did wrong. But, remember, it all started with that suspicious over-market-price home sale to defense contractor Mitchell Wade. Once that first corrupt blood was in the water, the piranhas started circling and soon everything came out -- though Stern got a number of the subsequent scoops as well.

There's always been a lot of speculation about what tripped Duke up. Did someone drop a dime on him? A pissed off contractor? Political opponents? Or even political friends?

That's not what happened, says Stern.

Stern told CityBEAT that it was a combination of those fishy trips to Saudi Arabia we've discussed, Cunningham's behavior and just some good old fashioned reporting.

Here's the key passage ...

With that red flag on Cunningham’s travels, Stern, in May, filled a few idle hours at his desk by performing routine “lifestyle audits” of members of the California Congressional delegation. That’s when he stumbled upon the sale of Cunningham’s home.

“I basically kicked over this one last stone, which was looking to see if he had upgraded his living accommodations,” Stern said. What he found was that Cunningham had purchased a new home in the exclusive neighborhood of Rancho Santa Fe for $2.55 million.

“That seemed like a substantial upgrade to me, so I looked at how he did that,” Stern said. Using a variety of public records, he traced the details surrounding the sale of Cunningham’s old home in Del Mar.

“When I looked to see who bought it, I saw it was something called 1523 New Hampshire Avenue Inc.,” he said. Recognizing the company’s name as possibly linked to a Washington, D.C., address, Stern did a quick search and found that it was the same location as the D.C. headquarters of Wade’s company, MZM Inc.

“All of a sudden I got very interested,” he said. “From the time I started looking at the house until the time I understood what was going on took about 15 minutes. I think that they thought they were covering it up, but they covered it up with Plexiglas.”

Some stories get busted open with instincts and doggedness. Access sometimes just gets in the way.

Get out those tinfoil

Get out those tinfoil hats ...

WaPo:"The Carlyle Group is among the final bidders for the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins restaurant chains, in what would be the first U.S. consumer retail investment for a company built around its expertise in defense, aerospace and telecommunications."

TPM Reader JO is

TPM Reader JO is willing to give Rep. Ney (R-OH) his due ...

"Ney returned to the same casino on a personal trip later in 2003 and reported on his financial disclosure form that he won $34,000. Walsh has said Ney parlayed a $100 bet into the large winning on two hands of a three-card game of chance."

That's the trick Rick used in Casablanca to help the young Bulgarian woman get an exit visa for herself and her husband without having to sleep with Louie. Of course, Ney and his cronies cleverly disguised the scheme by changing it from roulette (a couple of bets on good ol' 22) to a card game.

I'm no fan of bribery, but if Ney is going to put his hand out, his homage to Bogie at least shows that he's a crook with an appreciation for a great movie.

Certainly, snazzier than overpaying for your house.

(ed.note: Just to be clear, there is no conclusive evidence that Ney's boffo card game winnings were the product of more than luck. JO is speculating. Then again, there's pretty ripe pickings for speculation.)

Points for originalityFrom the

Points for originality?

From the Columbus Dispatch (sub.req.) ...

Citing national security, Rep. Bob Ney won't provide details about a 2003 trip to England courtesy of an obscure company called FN Aviation.

But a previously unreported link has emerged between the Heath Republican and the British company that had an office in Cyprus: FN Aviation employed a pair of lobbyists with ties to Ney.

The same year FN Aviation spent $2,700 on Ney's trip, it paid $20,000 to a former Ney chief of staff turned lobbyist, David DiStefano, to monitor Capitol Hill trade legislation, records show.

A bit further down in the article there's this passage ...

Ney had dinner during the trip at a posh London casino with FN Aviation Director Nigel Winfield, a convicted felon whose offenses have included tax evasion, and Fouad al-Zayat, a Syrian-born businessman known as a high-stakes casino gambler. Walsh has said Ney did not know about Winfield's background.

Ney returned to the same casino on a personal trip later in 2003 and reported on his financial disclosure form that he won $34,000. Walsh has said Ney parlayed a $100 bet into the large winning on two hands of a three-card game of chance.

Good work if you can get it.

Some of the letters

Some of the letters we get ...

Dear J. M. Marshall,

I read the Atlantic's Fallows piece in its entirety and found it a lot of hot air, and somewhat out of date, too. He has a knack of saying nothing fairly elegantly and at great length.

What's happening on the ground is we're getting 4,500 hotline tips a month vs. 500 six months ago, according to Gen. Pace. This means Iraq has "tipped" our way. So do the climbing real estate prices, the firm dinar, the returning emigres, the pathetic selection of soft targets by the remaining bombers, etc. The "victory" campaign just kicked off by Dubya fits this pattern, too. Ask Joe Lieberman...

Don't be surprised if Bush is speaking before a wildly cheering Iraqi parliament next summer, with the country almost totally peaceful. Such an event is not unlikely. And you know what that will do to elections for '06 and '08, don't you. From Alger Hiss to George McGovern to Howard Dean and John Kerry, the Democrats have been (accurately) typed as weak on national security. That is deeply embedded in the public mind. So long as the islamoterror continues, you may never get the majority again.

Many of us have been saying for a long time it would all boil down to what happened on the ground in Iraq. I still think so, and so do most Democrats. But they and you are too incestuous to see what is happening on the ground. It's Bush-Rove uber alles.


I think quantum theory predicts these alternative universes.

Like that songworthy ant

Like that songworthy ant, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), well ... he's got high hopes. A week ago back in Cleveland, Ney was asked whether he thought the Abramoff investigation would have any effect on his or other Republicans' reelection prospects next year.

"I don't believe so," said Ney, "As far as any controversy on any member, I don't think that will affect midterm elections. It's a long time off."

Like I said, high hopes. Especially considering, as the Washington Post puts it in tomorrow's paper, "prosecutors have told Ney they are preparing a possible bribery indictment against him over official acts that benefited clients of Abramoff."

And you have to figure the case will be pretty strong. Two of the key principals in the prospective case have already agreed to testify against him. First, was Michael Scanlon, Abramoff's right hand man who handled the quids for Ney's quos. And now Adam Kidan, the once-owner of SunCruz, is agreeing to testify against him too, another guy who gave Ney a bunch of quids.

What law of gravity that I don't know about says this dude isn't finished?

A race to watchFrom

A race to watch?

From The Hill ...

As the political climate has turned sour for Republicans, Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) finds himself trailing his Democratic challenger by tens of thousands of dollars, dogged by ethics charges and running in an increasingly Democratic district.

Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler (D) is challenging Taylor, in the 11st District, in rural, western North Carolina.

At the end of the third quarter, Shuler had $248,957 in the bank while Taylor had just $19,369, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

During the same period, Shuler raised $263,642; Taylor took in $134,791.

Taylor, you'll remember, is the fella who couldn't quite come up with a straight story about whether he voted yes or no or even voted at all on CAFTA. Have to imagine Shuler will want to bring up that bizarre story.

Hugh Bancroft III a

Hugh Bancroft III, a member of the Bancroft family that owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal, buys Duke Cunningham's house for $2.6 million.

The house appreciated a mere 2% over two years.

Back in August, before the bottom fell out, Duke put it on the market for $3.5 million.

In other news of Cunningham's lack of prescience, this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that in 1995 Duke "co-authored a bill called the "No Frills Prison Act" to prevent 'luxurious' prison conditions. The bill prohibited unmonitored phone calls, in-cell TVs, coffee pots or hot pots, viewing of R-rated movies, food better than what enlisted Army personnel get or unauthorized hygiene products or clothing."

It didn't pass.


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