Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Roll Call (sub.req.): "House Democrats are calling for a bipartisan Congressional investigation into former Rep. Duke Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) handling of classified information while serving on the Appropriations and Intelligence committees."

It turns out Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) wasn't the only one on that trip to Saudi Arabia. Yesterday we noted that last December, Cunningham made the second of two trips to Saudi Arabia funded by San Diego real estate developer Ziyad Abduljawad, a naturalized US citizen.

On this second trip, Duke made a pit stop in Athens to pick up Tommy Kontogiannis.

On Monday Duke pled guilty to accepting bribes from Kontogiannis (aka "co-conspirator #3") in exchange for unspecified official acts.

But it turns out that Cunningham wasn't the only member of Congress on the trip. Fellow Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) was also along for the ride.

Contacted late this afternoon, Rep. Calvert told TPM that the duo picked up Kontogiannis in Athens and later dropped him off in New York after their trip to Saudi Arabia.

Calvert said he'd never heard of Kontogiannis before the trip or since.

According to Calvert, the three spent their time in Saudi Arabia meeting with government ministers and exploring ways the Saudis could be more helpful in prosecuting the war on terrorism.

Hardball goes limp. Matthews from last night ...

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Congressman Duke Cunningham, ex-Congressman Duke Cunningham of California, announcing his resignation yesterday after pleading guilty to fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion.

Here to talk about it now and a slew of other scandals sweeping the city are "Newsweek`s" Howard Fineman and Tony Blankley of "The Washington Times."

Tony, I think it`s fair to say -- we`ll start with you, since you`re an editorial page editor, who`s free to express opinion -- that stinky-poo corruption, the stealing the money, just stealing the money for greed reasons -- is fairly nonpartisan.

TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Yes, both sides have done it. It doesn`t relate to anything other than the individual and his fall from ethical standards.

MATTHEWS: Are you proud of the president for coming out and trashing this guy? "The idea of a U.S. congressman taking money is outrageous and Congressman Cunningham is going to realize that he has broken the law and is going to pay a serious price, which he should." Pretty tough language for a president about a colleague.

That was a pretty tough question for former GOP operative and current Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley, wasn't it? Imagine putting Blankley on the spot like that pressing him to admit that public corruption is equally divided between the parties in today's Washington. Who can brave these hardballs?

A few more points to mull about the Duke saga.

First, remember that "co-conspirator #1" in the charges against Duke is Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor who owns ADCS Inc.

In addition to various other bribes he gave Duke, Wilkes also rented a corporate jet which appears to have existed more or less entirely to ferry around members of Congress. Mainly Duke. But also Rep. Tom DeLay and Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt. Wilkes is also an '04 Bush Pioneer.

Also, it's pretty stunning to see members of Congress admit to good-old-fashioned bribes. Not campaign contributions or overseas junkets, but old-tried-and-true lump sum cash payments.

But bribes are a means to an end. So pay attention to the context. This is a defense contracting scandal. Defense contracting scandals get you into the Department of Defense, particularly in a case like this in which the contracts are top-secret military spending programs over which there is little or no oversight.

Another part of the Duke Cunningham story that has me wondering.

In the charges filed against Duke Cunningham yesterday, "co-conspirator #3" is Thomas Kontogiannis. As you may remember from last summer, Kongtogiannis is the already-once-convicted-of-bribery fat cat who was in the mix buying Duke homes and swapping boats and all the rest of it. Page 5, item "d" says that Duke "used his public office and took other official action in a manner that would benefit" Kontogiannis. And that he did so because of all the money he gave Duke.

Okay, so clear enough. Kontogiannis was another guy who owned a piece of Duke and Duke pulled government strings for him.

So what was Duke doing for Kontogiannis?

Back on Oct. 19th 2000 Duke wrote a letter to a New York DA then investigating Kontogiannis, trying to get the guy to back off. But I think this is prior to the time frame in question.

What I keep coming back to is this passage from a September 24th article in the San Diego Union-Tribune ...

In a previously undisclosed link between Cunningham and Kontogiannis, the developer accompanied the congressman to Saudi Arabia last year. A Saudi-American businessman flew Cunningham to Saudi Arabia twice last year aboard a private jet. On the second trip, the jet stopped in Athens to pick up Kontogiannis, a native of Greece with businesses interests in several countries.

Ziyad Abduljawad, founder and chairman of San Diego-based PLC Land Co., paid for Cunningham's two trips to Saudi Arabia, each at a cost of more than $10,000. Cunningham has described Abduljawad as an acquaintance who shares his interest in improving U.S.-Saudi relations.

Kontogiannis "went as a friend of Duke's," said Harmony Allen, Cunningham's chief of staff. "That's the extent of it. Duke asked him to go as a friend. I'm not sure if (Kontogiannis) had a special interest (in visiting) Saudi Arabia or not."

It was unclear who paid for Kontogiannis' trip.

Remember, Duke just pled guilty to accepting numerous bribes from Kontogiannis in exchanging for putting the power of his office at Kontogiannis's disposal.

What was Duke doing stopping in Athens to pick up Kontogiannis to take to Saudi on his trip to improve relations between the US and Saudi Arabia?

Sure, Duke's history. But this case goes beyond Duke Cunningham. There's more here.

"What the Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs. Then this becomes a different town," Grover Norquist, 1995.

(ed.note: cite National Journal, July 29, 1995. Tip from TPM Reader DG.)

Republicans must be purer than Caesar's wife?

From tomorrow's Times ...

Though some Republican officials said Democrats in Congress were equally guilty of questionable behavior, including lobbyist-paid trips and underreporting of campaign contributions, they acknowledged that Republicans, because they control the White House and Congress, are being held to a higher standard by many voters. They also expressed shock and embarrassment at the extent of Mr. Cunningham's wrongdoing, which the president described on Tuesday as "outrageous."

That's a new one.

Being held to a higher standard because they control the White House and Congress. Isn't it just that by every conceivable measure they have more people being investigated and on the way to the slammer? Does the Times buy into this mumbojumbo?

As I wrote earlier, one might argue that the reason for the imbalance -- with virtually all the corruption cases focusing on Republicans -- is that they have the White House and Congress. They have all the power and access; so they're the only ones in a position to sell it. I think that's a pretty generous read of the situation for the GOP; but one could so argue.

But this isn't a matter of holding anyone to a higher standard, something the Times must know. It's simply that the vast majority of the public corruption in Washington is being done by Republicans. Full stop. End of story.