When Cunningham went behind bars Friday, he left behind a legacy of unanswered questions. He failed to address a much wider swath of potentially criminal activity going back farther than 2000 in his 15-year House career.
He went without offering much-needed assistance in pending investigations involving unnamed and uncharged co-conspirators, known to be Poway, Calif., defense contractor Brent Wilkes and New York businessman and felon Thomas Kontogiannis.
Cunningham also failed to publicly address the flaws in the congressional appropriations and military procurement systems that he exploited for gain for years. And, even though his actions exacerbated the public's mistrust of Congress, he didn't offer a scintilla of support for congressional reform.
Cunningham's friendship and dealings with Wilkes go back to the mid-1990s, before Cunningham's friendship began with Wade. But the plea agreement didn't address Cunningham's dealings with Wilkes before Wade entered the picture.
Cunningham's "earmarking" activities, using his influence as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of Congress to benefit friends and supporters, go back 15 years and involve areas other than defense and intelligence....
When the prosecution argued for a stiff jail sentence for Cunningham, it said Cunningham had cost the country financially and had harmed it. But it never said how much Cunningham's crimes had cost the country or how much damage had been done.
That's because nobody knows.
Most of the money Cunningham directed to Wade and Wilkes involved classified programs. Many of these so-called "black" or secret programs were funded in response to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Because these programs are part of the nation's black budget, there is almost no way for Cunningham's colleagues to have fully known the details of the earmarking he was doing as both a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the defense appropriations committee.
One of the programs Wade got for MZM Inc. was to combat the deadly roadside bombs that are the biggest threat to U.S. forces in Iraq. Is this program being conducted on the up and up? Was it one of the programs prosecutors found had profit margins of 800 percent? The public doesn't know.
Nor does the public know how extensively Cunningham exploited post-9/11 anxieties and the secrecy of the black budget to make quick bucks for himself and friends.
The larceny might have involved many different contractors, projects and appropriations bills over many years. So, only Cunningham could know for sure.
And while he was crying when last seen, he still wasn't talking.
Thanks to TPMm reader CC for the tip.
Update: Originally, this post stated that Stern's piece ran in The San Diego Union Tribune. It did not. It ran in another Copley News Service publication, The Daily Breeze.