Mitchell Wade paid the

Mitchell Wade paid the bribes to former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) that eventually led to both men pleading guilty to multiple felonies. Almost two years ago we noted the odd news that the first federal contract Wade ever received was with none other than the White House, the White House itself, which is officially called the Executive Office of the President in federal contracting-speak.

The contract was signed on July 15th, 2002 and it was supposedly for “office furniture.”

On December 5th, 2005, the LA Times reported that the contract was “to provide office furniture and computers for Vice President Cheney.”

Now, a lot of people have wondered for a long time just what that contract was really for. Remember, this was the maiden contract for a company specializing in defense and intelligence services. (The company was approved for federal contracting two months earlier.) And they bag a contract to deliver a bunch of desks and chairs to Vice President Cheney’s office? Add to the mix that, as we and others have long reported, Wade has long bragged that he had pull with the Vice President and those in his office and the whole thing starts to sound a bit fishy.

Indeed, just yesterday, Rep. Waxman (D-CA) sent the White House a letter asking for details about this mystery contract.

Well, we’ve found out what the contract was for.

Earlier this month, I told you about the upcoming book on the Cunningham scandal written by the guy who broke the story, Marcus Stern, and his colleagues at Copley News service, Jerry Kammer, Dean Calbreath, George E. Condon Jr, who as a team led coverage on the story for the next year.

The book’s called The Wrong Stuff: The Extraordinary Saga of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Most Corrupt Congressman Ever Caught. Today I got a glance at a key section of the book and it reveals that what that contract was really for was for screening the president’s mail.

That’s right, screening the president’s mail, presumably for Anthrax and other similar biohazards. Remember, this was in mid-2002, not long after the Anthrax scare that shut down several offices on Capitol Hill. So this is a pretty important contract, a pretty sensitive task on any number of levels.

This afternoon, we’ve independently confirmed that this is the case. According to a knowledgeable source, the text of the contract itself refers to “threat mail technology insertion” which we believe is spook-speak for screening technology for Anthrax and other biohazards.

But there’s still more to the story.

If you’re a Cunningham case afficionado, you know that in early 2002 Mitchell Wade was still acting as a cut out for his corruption mentor Brent Wilkes — who’s now awaiting trial in the Cunningham case. And around the same time Wilkes was greasing palms in DC trying to get into the Anthrax mail screening racket himself.

He got some help from Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) who got money from Wilkes. We pick up that part of the story from the San Diego Union-Tribune from March 19th, 2006 …

Julie Doolittle was working at Buckham’s offices in 2002 when Buckham introduced Brent Wilkes to her husband. Federal contracts for his flagship company, ADCS Inc., were drying up, partly because the Pentagon had been telling Congress it had little need for the company’s document-scanning technology. So Wilkes was trying to get funding for two new businesses.

One was tied to the 2002 anthrax scare, when tainted letters were sent to Capitol Hill. Wilkes’ idea was to have all Capitol Hill mail rerouted to a site in the Midwest, where ADCS employees wearing protective suits would scan it into computers and then e-mail it back to Washington.

He called his proposed solution MailSafe – similar to the names of several anti-anthrax companies launched at that time – and began vying for federal contracts, even though the company had little to its name other than a rudimentary Web site.

The House Administration Committee, on which Doolittle sat, oversees the congressional mail system. Doolittle told his colleagues about MailSafe and introduced them to Wilkes, but the project never got off the ground.

Note the reference to the House Administration Committee. That was the committee then chaired by another Abramoff buddy — the now-imprisoned Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH). And Ney, as he’d earlier done for Abramoff associate Adam Kidan, actually read into the House record an encomium to Wilkes.

So it all comes back to the same question. Why did a company like Wade’s, which had no track record whatsoever and had only been approved to receive federal government contracts two months earlier, get a contract from the White House to screen the mail of the President of the United States? Was Wade actually working in concert with or as the cut out for accused fellow Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes? And what role might Doolittle and Ney have played? And what about Wade’s claims of having pull with the Vice President? Is that what got him the deal?

The Wilkes-Wade business model was corrupting members of Congress and the executive branch in order to obtain pricey government contracts, often but not always for worthless products and services, and almost always stashed away in classified programs where the light of day could never expose their corrupt practices. And Wade’s first contract was with the White House itself. So whose palm got greased?

Late Update: David Corn adds some more details to the mix and gives some pointers on how the investigation might proceed.