Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

For those of you who need a refresher on Duke Cunningham's various acts of public corruption, you can check out this graphical version of the CunningScam, TPM Reader WC's entry into the Duke Cunningham Shenanigan Program & Worksheet contest.

It needs to be updated to cover Duke's new ADCS, Inc. pay-for-play operation. And I wish the graphics were separated out a bit more (actually, I just realized this problem is more a matter of my fonts being set small). But it gives a good run-down of how Duke's various houses, boats, pay-offs, sweatheart loans, and insider defense contracts fit together.

Has Duke's CunningScam been an open secret for a long, long time?

TPM Reader JS pointed my attention to this clip in The Hotline from late 1997 about Duke's string pulling for Brent Wilkes' ADCS, the company the Feds raided yesterday afternoon ...

Copley's Wilkie reports, the "affable" Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) "effuses" about a San Diego software company, ADCS, "that recently won a lucrative" DoD contract to "convert paper records to electronic files. ... But to others involved in the same project, (his) enthusiasm went beyond cost-saving zeal and regional promotion." Critics say he helped direct $3.2M worth of DoD business to ADCS which is run by campaign contributor Brent Wilkes, who gave Cunningham $2K in '96 and whose business partner, Randall Kerley, gave him $500. "How directly and passionately did (Cunningham) pressure the Pentagon on behalf" of ADCS? He "says he merely talked up" ADCS because it had the best software, "despite Pentagon assessments that others had superior products." But "others, however, say" Cunningham "pressed" DoD officials "to go with Wilkes' company, using as a stick his strong ties with military brass and his powerful position" on the House Nat'l Securtiy Cmte in '96. Pentagon officials are mum on the issue. "For his part, Cunningham says that anyone, including a reporter, who dares paint his actions as anything but aboveboard "can go to hell" and he has said that he told DoD to go with the best company. Wilkie concludes: "Regardless of who had the better product, the issue may be whether (he) should have used his Pentagon ties to promote any company run by a campaign contributor" (12/12).

And how much <$NoAd$> second-rate product is the Pentagon using today because of Duke Cunningham?

And why isn't there more of an outcry that this guy is still serving in Congress?

In a sense it's a tongue-in-cheek proposal. But when Kevin Drum today suggests we might do better to shut down all of the rest of our intelligence agencies beside INR -- the State Department's in-house intel bureau -- he's really not that far off. It's not just a broken clock being right twice a day, as their detractors in other parts of the government and the commentariat like to say. INR has gotten a lot of big questions right of late. And in most cases it's been through a mix of skepticism, area expertise and breadth of knowledge that seems to provide a check on institutional myopia.

We might also take time to go back and read Ernest May's Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France, a book which, in an immediate sense, is about French and German intelligence in the lead-up to the war but is more generally a look into the nature of intelligence failures. A fascinating study.

I reviewed it here at TPM three years ago.

You know how Jack Abramoff was hired to protect sweatshop owners in Saipan from having to comply with American labor laws. And you remember how he helped Indian gambling interests get out of paying taxes. But did you know that right after 9/11 he was hired by a Saudi petro-billionaire to help him deal with US government claims that his banks handled money for and funded various terrorist groups including al Qaida?

Last week I told you about California defense contractor Brent Wilkes.

He was the one who, in addition to this defense contracting company, ADCS, Inc., had also opened up Group W Advisors, his own DC lobby shop and Group W Transportion, a private air carrier that only owned 1/16 of a Lear Jet and had as its primary line of work giving freebie flights around the country to members of Congress like Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt, but mostly our old pal Duke Cunningham, who represents the district where ADCS is located.

Now, when I read that article what jumped out to me was until a few years ago ADCS had an employee by the name of Mitchell Wade. And in case you were wondering, yes, the same Mitchell Wade (owner of MZM, Inc.) who bought Duke's house for 3/4 million dollars over price and bought the boat for him to live on in DC.

Helluva coincidence.

The two companies shared a lot in common: tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to Duke, lots of freebies for Duke, etc. And ADCS managed to haul in almost $76 million dollars in defense contracts from 2000 to 2004.

Apparently the Feds think there's some connection too.

This afternoon agents from the FBI, the IRS and DOD's Defense Criminal Investigative Service conducted raids on the offices of ADCS in Poway and Brent Wilkes' home.

Now, we could go back down the list of Duke's cartoonish shenanigans with his attempts to secure a pardon for convicted kickback scammer Thomas Kontogiannis after Kontogiannis bought his boat at double market rates and gave him a bunch of sweetheart loans, or all the rest of the ridiculousness with the other boat and the houses and all the rest of it.

But look at the key points. MZM, $66 million in revenues in 2004. Between 2000 and 2004 ADCS bagged $76 million in defense contracts. $60 million here, $70 million there, pretty soon you're talking about real money. The two companies were connected.

This isn't just a Duke Cunningham scandal. It's a serious defense contracting scandal. And even if Duke says he's not going to run next year, it ain't over.

Late Update: In addition to a lot of flights on their Lear Jet, between 2002 and 2004, Brent Wilkes, his wife Regina and an executive with their company gave $30,000 to Tom DeLay's ARMPAC. Brent Wilkes, Regina Wilkes, various ADCS executives and the ADCS PAC, meanwhile, combined to give approximately $59,000 to Duke and his PAC from 2000 to 2004, all but $6500 of which came in 2001 and 2002.

So Late It's the Next Day Update: As of some time last night, the websites for ADCS, Group W, and seemingly all companies tied to Brent Wilkes are offline.

Another thought about the Abramoff matter.

Clearly, in less than a decade, Jack Abramoff was able to amass a vast sum of money. Given the nature of the enterprise, it's not clear that we know the full amount even today. But certainly it ran into many tens of millions of dollars.

But pay attention to the big picture rather than just his personal enrichment or particular bad acts.

This is a huge sum of money Abramoff was sitting on. There was lots of money to keep Grover Norquist rolling in cash, lots of spare cash to fund Ralph Reed's transition from Christian Coalition sachem to power lobbyist, money for skyboxes to use to raise more money without the in-kind donation of the use of the skybox, millions of dollars pushed through front organizations then passed on to others.

This isn't just a crooked lobbyist. This is someone managing a slush-fund. The sort of unregulated, unwatched pile of money patronage-based political machines always need to keep running.

So who is he running it for?

Abramoff's lawyer says his client is willing to talk to government prosecutors about the murder of Gus Boulis.

Ahh, the little details. Apparently, when Jack Abramoff was putting in for the $60 million loan to purchase SunCruz in 2000 -- the episode for which he's now been indicted -- he put down Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as his character reference.