Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Very interesting.

In our last post below, we asked just what defense and national security-related services Mitchell Wade's MZM, Inc. was providing the US government and whether the fact that Wade had to get Duke Cunningham a house and a boat to secure the contracts tells us anything about the quality of the services Wade's company provides.

Well, tonight in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Marcus Stern -- who broke the story ten days ago -- follows up with some very telling details.

One of the contracts Wade seems to have bought his way into is this one ...

Counter Intelligence Field Activity, a highly secretive program created in 2002 by a Pentagon directive that focuses on gathering intelligence to avert attacks like the ones on Sept. 11, 2001.

I certainly feel better knowing that MZM's got that one covered.

And then there's this (emphasis added) ...

Cunningham is on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the defense appropriations subcommittee, which puts him in position to influence the awarding of defense intelligence contracts.

MZM had 56 such contracts totaling $68,645,909 in fiscal year 2004, according to Keith Ashdown, an analyst with Taxpayers for Common Sense. One of those contracts is to provide interpreters in Iraq. For the most part, the contracts were awarded to MZM without competition through a process known as "blanket purchase agreements."

Just gets better and better, doesn't it?

At the risk of asking a really obvious question, lemme ask you a question. And I won't feel that bad for asking it since it must not be that obvious, given that no one is asking it.

So without more ado, here goes ...

We know now that our man Mitchell Wade is into Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Wade) for upwards of a million bucks. Not campaign contributions, mind you, but personal cash bonuses. He also got a yacht for Duke to live on when he was spending time in the capital.

So what's all the money for exactly?

Wade's company doesn't make paper-clips or government issue pencils. His firm provides a mix of defense, homeland security and intelligence-related products or services to the relevant agencies. We don't know precisely what they do since it's all, or most of it is, classified.

But this list of "critical skill areas" in which the company is currently hiring gives some sense of their line of work ..

  • National Intelligence Policy Advisor
  • Subject Matter Experts in Counterintelligence, Homeland Security, Critical Infrastructure Protection and All-Source Intelligence.
  • Systems Integrators/Information Assurance Experts
  • Geospatial Intelligence Analysts
  • Open-Source Analysts
  • Translators
  • HUMINT/SOF Operators
  • Media Exploitation Specialists
  • Counter-IED Specialists

  • In any case, it really seems like Mitchell Wade had to give Duke an awfully good greasing up to get the help he needed with those DOD and Homeland Security contracts.

    And that makes you wonder: Were MZM's services really the best on offer? And why were they having such a hard time getting Pentagon contracts before Mitchell Wade bought Duke's house?

    How about the services MZM is providing in Iraq? I would assume those include the "force protection" services MZM provides. (Note the firms office in Baghdad.) Is anyone there having to make do with second or third best because of Duke Cunningham's new house and his fancy boat?

    Also note that the MZM website proudly notes that the company is "proud to be at the forefront of the war on terrorism, assisting the United States with fighting terrorism and preventing further attacks on our homeland." Are we all on the line for Duke's house?

    Perhaps MZM offers crackerjack services. Maybe MZM just needed Duke to make its corporate voice heard amid DC's current cash-n-carry contracting culture. But doesn't this deserve some looking into?

    TPM Reader JH on Frist (and speaking <$NoAd$> sentiments we share) ...

    Rove & Co. are well aware Frist wants to be Pres. So they tell him they won't support him unless he's their dog. Of course it's likely an elaborate double cross, to simultaneously show him up as a weakling, so that by 2008 he's an even bigger joke than he is now.

    Then there's TPM Reader RK ...

    Hasn't it been obvious since the White House "helped" Lott out? They wanted someone who would do their bidding, and Frist has been their boy since way back.

    And, not that you asked, but: an interesting parlor conversation would discuss who is a bigger wh--e: Frist or McCain? For my money, McCain wins by a mile - Frist has no pretense of being his own man, whereas McCain ran as a pseudo-anti-Bush in 2000, etc.

    I sigh and hope this couldn't be true about Sen. McCain. Alas ...

    Even radio producers can't trust Bill Frist.

    I was on the Al Franken Show today. And just as we were coming back from a break we got the news that Bill Frist had announced he'd seek no more votes on John Bolton's nomination. Then just as we were coming back on the air (maybe a minute later? 90 seconds?), the show's producer hollers out that Frist has already gone back on his pronouncement. Now Frist says the White House has said the president wants another vote. And when the president says, "Jump!", Bill Frist says, "How high?"

    It now seems time to ask a few questions.

    A) Who is the last Senate Majority Leader to have as bad a six months as Bill Frist has just had?

    B) Has Frist's utter fealty to every direction of the White House now become an embarrassment even to members of his own caucus? Just out of some sense of residual institutional prerogative?

    C) What does it say about Bush/Rove's opinion of Frist that they are now happy to humiliate him publicly on something close to a weekly basis.


    Who can tell me how many bits of White House bamboozlement have been eaten whole by the author of this paragraph from an article in the Associated Press?

    Since the beginning of his second term, Bush has been pushing to allow younger workers to create voluntary personal accounts funded out of their Social Security payroll taxes. Democrats accuse the White House of seeking to privatize the Depression-era program and have been unified in opposition to the idea.

    Any takers?

    Late Update: More commentary here on the dingbat AP story -- more significantly, how the whole lede is wrong. Also, TPM Reader RS pretty much knocked the question above out of the park. Here's the note he sent us ...

    Oh Lord, where to begin on that AP report and its "Come To Jesus" approach to President Bush's version of events:

    1. "Since the beginning of his second term..." Bush has been pushing to dismantle SS since before he was elected in 2000. His party has been trying to shut it down since it was implemented back in the 1930s.

    2. "...voluntary..." It's voluntary if you ignore the rarely-mentioned but critically important cut in guaranteed benefits that everyone will suffer, even if they don't "opt-in" for these private accounts. If this administration has its way, you'd be a fool NOT to take the voluntary account. You'd likely starve without it, and you very well could starve anyway if the market crashes just before you retire.

    3. "...personal accounts..." The bamboozler's favorite euphemism. These are private accounts, as in privatized accounts, as in the end of Social Security.

    4. "Democrats accuse..." Democrats aren't accusing him of anything. They are stating fact. Bush wants to privatize Social Security.

    5. "...Depression-era program..." A cute attempt to imply that Social Security is some relic from the past, instead of the critical safety net that Americans (especially working class Americans!) need when they retire.

    I'm pretty sure I missed some, but five bamboozles in a 50-word graf? That's a 0.10 bamboozle co-efficient, which is almost breathtaking.

    He even caught some <$NoAd$> I didn't think of. My picks were "voluntary", "personal accounts" and "Democrats accuse". He's got a t-shirt coming his way.

    Even Later Update: Another TPM Reader RS sends in these ...

    Here's my quick count:

    1. “Since the beginning of his second term” The writer forgets that Bush has been trying to gut social security as far back as his first failed run for Congress in the 1970’s.

    2. “to allow younger workers” The writer uncritically passes along Bush’s concept of “younger” even though it excludes many fresh faced workers.

    3 and 4. “voluntary personal accounts” The writer accepts, without informing the reader, Bush’s strained, but politically preferred, use of the words “voluntary” and “personal.”

    5. “out of their Social Security payroll taxes.” The writer falsely implies that Bush’s plan is funded by current tax receipts and not from borrowed funds.

    6. “Democrats accuse the White House of seeking to privatize” The writer misleads the reader by letting objective fact appear to be a partisan attack. A fair wording would be “Democrats criticize the White House for seeking to privatize…”

    7. “Depression-era progam” The writer apparently believes Social Security is just a minor legacy program that was mistakenly left untouched after the Works Project Administration closed up shop. Social Security’s was created in the Depression era, but the program has been modernized over the last six decades and retains broad contemporary popular support.

    What the hell ... A shirt for him too!

    So Late We're Partying Like It's 1999 Update: Secret AP writer's identity revealed! Nedra Pickler!

    Congressman Issa (R) floats a trial balloon version of the Duke's defense?

    From the North County Times ...

    The North County Times did speak with U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, during a break between votes Monday. Issa defended his Republican colleague and said Cunningham is an honest man. In his opinion, Issa said, the real story is how the real estate agent who suggested the $1.675 million sales price of the home came up with those figures.

    Issa also questioned why the man who runs a multimillion-dollar defense company paid higher than market value for the house without getting an independent appraisal, then sold it for below market value. ...

    "Wade was either a fool (as a businessman) or a fool in how he tried to curry favor," Issa said. "He accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, but that doesn't mean Duke was in on it."

    He said that while he believes the matter should be looked into, and it will be, he believes too much in Cunningham's integrity to think he would be capable of doing anything dishonest.

    "Duke has one thing he prides himself on more than anything and that is his integrity," Issa said. "His word is his bond."

    Textbook case of serial, predatory <$NoAd$> bribery ...

    One of the most telling features of the "Duke" Cunningham scandal (CunningScam? Yachthgate?) is that with all the very damning information that has been revealed over the last ten days neither of the principals has managed to say much of anything in their defense.

    To the best of my knowledge (and I've followed this fairly closely), MZM CEO and grand poobah Mitchell Wade has not spoken to any reporter about anything related to the story.

    For the first few days, his employees put out the word that he was "traveling without access to a telephone", which, for most businessmen today, is rather like drinking without a cup. More recently he seems simply to have gone to ground with no particular need for an any explanation.

    At some later day, we may find him looking for the real killers or as the case may be, the real home buyers. But for the moment, he's nowhere to be found. And this is a federal contractor doing business with the USG on super-serious defense and homeland security matters.

    Even more telling is the tightlippedness of Cunningham himself. After the story first broke he put out word that he was assembling paperwork that would put all questions to rest. But he now seems to have gone to ground too -- a sitting member of Congress no less.

    Here, the North County Times (which has been giving the San Diego Union-Tribune a run for its money on this one) picks up the story. Cunningham spokesman Mark Olson says that the congressman has no timeline for when he'll speak to reporters or come forward with his all-clarifying dossier. But even the local head of the GOP doesn't seem happy about it. San Diego County GOP chief Ron Nehring says: "I think everyone is looking forward to the situation being clarified. There clearly is more information that needs to come out and when that happens we will get a clearer idea of what happens next."

    Says Olson: "The congressman is putting together all the relevant records and information and will disclose it at the appropriate time."

    Seems like an appropriate time.

    We'd heard this was coming. Now Copley News Service's Marcus Stern has the goods: "A defense contractor who took a $700,000 loss on the purchase of Rep. Randy Cunningham's Del Mar residence in 2003, and provided a yacht for his use in the nation's capital, forced his employees to make political contributions that benefited the San Diego Republican and other members of Congress, according to three former senior officials of the company.(emphasis added)"

    There's also this intriguing nugget: "A third former employee of MZM described being rounded up along with other employees one afternoon in the company's Washington headquarters and told to write a check with the political recipient standing by. The former employee didn't give the name of the politician receiving the donations."

    Boy, would it be fun to know who that 'political recipient' was.

    And perhaps not that hard since the universe of members of Congress spending serious time on the MZM gravy train seems not to have been that large.

    Earlier we told you about Rep. Virgil Goode (R) from Southside Virginia. But don't forget about the rest of folks who got money.

    Like Katherine Harris.

    In the 2004 cycle the MZM political action committee gave out $34,000 to House candidates. The totals go like this ...

    Cunningham, Randy "Duke" (R-CA) $6,000 Forbes, J Randy (R-VA) $5,000 Goode, Virgil H Jr (R-VA) $10,000 Harris, Katherine (R-FL) $10,000 Hunter, Duncan (R-CA) $1,000 Renzi, Rick (R-AZ) $2,000

    So Katherine Harris got $10,000 from the MZM Pac. And during the same cycle she got another $32,000 from employees of MZM.

    Actually, not just during the same cycle. If you look at this read-out from OpenSecrets.org you'll see that that $32,000 came in 16 checks for $2000 each. And 14 of those $2,000 checks were written out on one day -- March 23rd, 2004, a Tuesday.

    The two other were written out on April 1st, 2004 a Thursday by MZM owner Mitchell Wade's wife: Christiane Wade.

    With Cunningham and Goode, Mitchell Wade had some very specific piece of business he wanted help with. What was his angle on Katherine Harris?

    Steve Clemons has a great play-by-play over at his site on what happened today with the Bolton nomination.

    Another loss for the White House. An even bigger one for Bill Frist.