Last night I mentioned that I was leafing through my Duke Cunningham file. One of the things that prompted that was a few questions I had about Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), a fellow who had a decent number of ties to Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes and a lot of ties to the guy who I figure was basically Wilkes’ mentor, former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-CA).
Jerry Kammer at the San Diego Union-Tribune did some great reporting on the Lowery-Lewis nexus almost six months ago. And ever since then I’ve thought that Lewis was likely far more tied up in this mess than we’ve known.
But look at this passage from Monday’s piece in the LA Times. Briefly, the context is that Brent Wilkes was giving Cunningham marching orders to get the Pentagon to pay him for some more of his substandard products. Afterwards, Duke was rewarded with a generous cash bribe …
In July 1999, co-conspirator No. 1 [i.e., Brent Wilkes] faxed Cunningham “talking points” on how to bully a Pentagon manager into releasing more government funds. These documents were included in Cunningham’s sentencing hearing.
The memo instructed the lawmaker to demand that the Defense Department official shift money from another program to cover funds designated for ADCS. “We need $10 m[illion] more immediately,” Cunningham was to tell the official.
If the official didn’t cooperate, Cunningham was to say his next calls would be to two high-ranking Pentagon officials. The script called for Cunningham to add: “This is very important and if you cannot resolve this others will be calling also” â two names in this passage are blacked out in the memo. Despite Cunningham’s threats, the Pentagon manager was unmoved, according to grand jury testimony.
A week later, Cunningham and Lewis called a Washington news conference to announce that they had slashed $2 billion in funding for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, one of the Pentagon’s prized programs, citing cost overruns. Both congressmen had been key supporters of the project, and their comments shocked Pentagon officials.
Within days, the same Pentagon manager who had been resistant to Cunningham’s appeals sent the congressman a list of other programs where money could be “reallocated” to Wilkes’ firm, according to court documents. “The Defense Department spends $1 billion a day, so the [Wilkes] contract was like a rounding error. It just wasn’t worth putting our big programs at risk,” a senior Pentagon official said on condition he not be identified.
On Friday, Lewis said “there was no connection whatsoever” between his position on the F-22 program and Cunningham’s effort to pressure the Pentagon on Wilkes’ behalf. “If I knew about it, I would have stopped it,” Lewis said.
The Pentagon agreed to send $5 million more to Wilkes’ firm, according to court documents. The F-22 funds were later restored. In subsequent years, Cunningham and Lewis supported full funding for the warplane.
In May 2000, a month after his firm received the $5 million, Wilkes wrote two checks to Cunningham for a total of $100,000. These payments were used as evidence in the bribery case.
So Cunningham was bought and he actually accepted detailed instructions from Wilkes on how to shake free ‘his’ money. And there’s Lewis, going as far as to kill a major weapons program, to get Brent Wilkes his $6 million.
Now, maybe I’m just cynical. But you’ve got two members of Congress doing your bidding for you, pretty much on command. With one you’ve got a textbook corrupt arrangement. He does your bidding. You give him cash. With the other guy, it’s just for good government? He just temporarily lost faith in the F-22?
Look back through the record: you see Jerry Lewis doing a lot of bidding for Brent Wilkes and Bill Lowery. See example after example and at a certain point you just add two and two and it occurs to you that it might equal four.