Considering the fallout from Monday's Brent Wilkes verdict, Josh wondered
whether Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) might feel a bit unsettled. After all, no other lawmaker besides Duke Cunningham had a closer relationship to Wilkes than Lewis.
During the trial, Wilkes actually tried this tack as a self-defense, pointing
to his relationship with Lewis, who for most of the relevant time period held the powerful position of chairman of the appropriations defense subcommittee, as far more important than his relationship with Cunningham. Sure, Cunningham was helpful, he said, but Lewis held the power. Lewis, of course, remains on the committee as its highest ranking Republican.
It was for that reason that Wilkes hired former GOP congressman Bill Lowery as a lobbyist. Lowery was old friends with Lewis and had set himself up as his "gatekeeper" after Lowery himself had left Congress. If you wanted Lewis to back your project, Lowery was the guy who made it happen (The San Diego Union-Tribune
first laid out the extent of the entanglement in this excellent piece
). So Wilkes paid Lowery up to $25,000 per month. And it was Lowery, unsurprisingly, who taught Wilkes the ropes in Washington back in the early 90's. Lowery's lobbying firm, Copeland Lowery (now called Innovative Federal Strategies), became a big player.
Federal investigators continue to probe the relationship between Lowery and Lewis, an investigation that can't help but include Wilkes.
So will Wilkes, now facing as many as twenty years in prison, have a change of heart and cooperate with prosecutors? If there's anything we've learned over the past two years, it's that Brent Wilkes is a stubborn man.
As for Lewis, his efforts to distance himself from Wilkes are sure to continue.
He told The Los Angeles Times last year that he knew Wilkes "socially years ago," but hadn't ever discussed federal contracts with him. Wilkes, talking to The New York Times that same year, had a different take:
Ever since they went on a scuba-diving trip together in 1993, he said, Mr. Lewis had referred to him as his ''diving buddy.'' They occasionally dined together or met at political functions, Mr. Wilkes said. At a Las Vegas fund-raiser in April 2005, Mr. Wilkes said, Mr. Lewis greeted him as ''Brento'' and hugged him as Mr. Wilkes surprised the lawmaker with $25,000 in campaign contributions.