The Infamous Duke Cunningham Included In Trump Flurry Of 11th Hour Pardons

SAN DIEGO - MARCH 3: Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham (2nd L) walks into Federal Courthouse during the sentencing phase at the U.S. District Courthouse March 3, 2006 in San Diego, California. Cunningham was found g... SAN DIEGO - MARCH 3: Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham (2nd L) walks into Federal Courthouse during the sentencing phase at the U.S. District Courthouse March 3, 2006 in San Diego, California. Cunningham was found guilty of conspiracy and tax evasion for accepting more than 2.4 million in bribes and could face up to 10 years in prison. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 20, 2021 10:38 a.m.

Disgraced former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s messy “bribe menu” was, apparently, just tacky enough to garner President Trump’s sympathy.

In an 11th hour move, Trump used his final moments as President to issue pardons and clemency to 143 people, including his aides and associates as well as friends of his closest allies. The list includes Duke Cunningham and his lava lamp.

Trump issued Cunningham a conditional pardon, as Cunningham was released from prison in 2013. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was behind the clemency push for the disgraced ex-lawmaker, the White House said in its statement.

Cunningham — a combat veteran, an ace fighter pilot and a member of the Military Order of Purple Hearts — is infamous for the brazen form his public corruption took. The ex-lawmaker resigned from Congress in November 2005 after he pleaded guilty to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes, tax evasion, mail fraud, wire fraud, under-reporting his taxable income and conspiracy to commit bribery — the most colorful of the federal charges which included his notorious “bribe menu.”

During his time in Congress, Cunningham served in prominent positions on several House committees — as a member of the House Appropriations and Intelligence Committees and as the chair of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Human Intelligence Analysis and Counterintelligence. The federal charges found the lawmaker had secretly accepted millions in bribes from defense contractors in exchange for lucrative federal government contracts.

Among the many arresting offenses, Cunningham sold his San Diego home to defense contractor Mitchell Wade of MZM Inc. for upwards of $1.6 million. Cunningham used the proceeds to buy himself a mansion for nearly double the price and Wade put the house back on the market less than a year later, taking a $700,000 loss. In that span of time, MZM Inc. was awarded millions in defense and intelligence contracts, aided by Cunningham’s position on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Cunningham maintained at the time that the deal was legitimate.

Only perhaps Paul Manafort, with his affinity for such things as ostrich skin jackets, could top Cunningham’s laughably gaudy taste. His dealings with Wade didn’t stop with the housing market. The defense contractor supplied Cunningham with a yacht — coined the “Duke Stir” — to live in rent-free on the Anacostia River while he worked in Washington. And his dealings onboard the Duke Stir were something to behold — Cunningham regularly held parties and hosted a revolving door of women on Wade’s houseboat. He often entertained his guests with champagne while wearing a bathrobe and setting the ambience of the scene with the light of a lava lamp.

Among several other things, Wade also supplied Cunningham with pricey antiques, paid $13,000 for him to purchase a Rolls-Royce and even gave the lawmaker money for his daughter’s graduation party.

Cunningham was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2006 — at the time, one of the longest prison terms handed down to a member of Congress — and served seven, released early for good behavior. He served the majority of the sentence at a low-security prison in Arizona, where he, as the White House noted in its statement on his pardoning, tutored fellow inmates to earn their GEDs.

“Although combat-disabled, he continues to serve his community by volunteering with a local fire department and is active in Bible Study,” the White House said in a statement.

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