Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Perish the thought. Feds open an investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) ...

Federal prosecutors have begun an investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Californian who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, government officials and others said, signaling the spread of a San Diego corruption probe.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has issued subpoenas in an investigation into the relationship between Lewis (R-Redlands) and a Washington lobbyist linked to disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), three people familiar with the investigation said.

The investigation is part of an expanding federal probe stemming from Cunningham's conviction for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and favors from defense contractors, according to the three sources.

What will we tell the children? And what about the appropriators?

Way back when, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) justified getting tons of free dinners at Jack Abramoff's restaurant Signatures by claiming that, heck, he took Jack out a lot too. So it all came out in the wash, you might say.

Now Kyle "Dusty" Foggo seems to be trying that same line out to explain all the largesse he got from Brent Wilkes.

Does Dusty have to credit Dana for first using the excuse? You know, sort of like reporters. This bogus excuse, first used by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, is the one I'll use to explain this apparent bribes and/or illegal gratuities.

Last night I mentioned that I was leafing through my Duke Cunningham file. One of the things that prompted that was a few questions I had about Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), a fellow who had a decent number of ties to Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes and a lot of ties to the guy who I figure was basically Wilkes' mentor, former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-CA).

Jerry Kammer at the San Diego Union-Tribune did some great reporting on the Lowery-Lewis nexus almost six months ago. And ever since then I've thought that Lewis was likely far more tied up in this mess than we've known.

But look at this passage from Monday's piece in the LA Times. Briefly, the context is that Brent Wilkes was giving Cunningham marching orders to get the Pentagon to pay him for some more of his substandard products. Afterwards, Duke was rewarded with a generous cash bribe ...

In July 1999, co-conspirator No. 1 [i.e., Brent Wilkes] faxed Cunningham "talking points" on how to bully a Pentagon manager into releasing more government funds. These documents were included in Cunningham's sentencing hearing.

The memo instructed the lawmaker to demand that the Defense Department official shift money from another program to cover funds designated for ADCS. "We need $10 m[illion] more immediately," Cunningham was to tell the official.

If the official didn't cooperate, Cunningham was to say his next calls would be to two high-ranking Pentagon officials. The script called for Cunningham to add: "This is very important and if you cannot resolve this others will be calling also" — two names in this passage are blacked out in the memo. Despite Cunningham's threats, the Pentagon manager was unmoved, according to grand jury testimony.

A week later, Cunningham and Lewis called a Washington news conference to announce that they had slashed $2 billion in funding for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, one of the Pentagon's prized programs, citing cost overruns. Both congressmen had been key supporters of the project, and their comments shocked Pentagon officials.

Within days, the same Pentagon manager who had been resistant to Cunningham's appeals sent the congressman a list of other programs where money could be "reallocated" to Wilkes' firm, according to court documents. "The Defense Department spends $1 billion a day, so the [Wilkes] contract was like a rounding error. It just wasn't worth putting our big programs at risk," a senior Pentagon official said on condition he not be identified.

On Friday, Lewis said "there was no connection whatsoever" between his position on the F-22 program and Cunningham's effort to pressure the Pentagon on Wilkes' behalf. "If I knew about it, I would have stopped it," Lewis said.

The Pentagon agreed to send $5 million more to Wilkes' firm, according to court documents. The F-22 funds were later restored. In subsequent years, Cunningham and Lewis supported full funding for the warplane.

In May 2000, a month after his firm received the $5 million, Wilkes wrote two checks to Cunningham for a total of $100,000. These payments were used as evidence in the bribery case.

So Cunningham was bought and he actually accepted detailed instructions from Wilkes on how to shake free 'his' money. And there's Lewis, going as far as to kill a major weapons program, to get Brent Wilkes his $6 million.

Now, maybe I'm just cynical. But you've got two members of Congress doing your bidding for you, pretty much on command. With one you've got a textbook corrupt arrangement. He does your bidding. You give him cash. With the other guy, it's just for good government? He just temporarily lost faith in the F-22?

Look back through the record: you see Jerry Lewis doing a lot of bidding for Brent Wilkes and Bill Lowery. See example after example and at a certain point you just add two and two and it occurs to you that it might equal four.

How does this look?

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has now come forward to say how sorry he is that in a public speech he told a story about how he kills government contracts if the owners of the companies in question don't support President Bush. Now he admits that it never happened. It wasn't true. And in fact he never lets politics interfere with HUD contracting decisions.

This reminds me of the time I walked into a bank and told them I'd stolen a bunch of their money even though I hadn't. I really regretted that.

Or the time I told a good friend I'd slept with his girlfriend even though I hadn't. I really regretted that too.

Alphonso Jackson. HUD Secretary.

We're going to be covering this in more depth today at TPMmuckraker. But let me say a few more things about the the North County Times article mentioned below.

Do you know what the threshold is for a government criminal investigator, the regional head of DOD's in-house investigative service, to go public and say on the record that someone isn't cooperating and that the scandal is much bigger than anyone thinks?

Also, consider Duke Cunningham. What would it take to get him to clam up? Duke is 64 years old. He's had cancer. He was just sentenced to 8+ years in prison. That might well be a death sentence. Who's he protecting? And what would make him think he's better off keeping quiet than telling investigators what they want to know?

San Diego's North County Times has a big scoop on the Cunningham scandal and Hookergate.

Apparently, even in the slammer, Duke isn't cooperating. He's not willing to give up the really big fish, it seems.

Says Rick Gwin, regional head of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, "In my opinion, he has not been cooperative and I have not gotten any information from him to further develop other targets. I was hoping that from a jail cell, he might become more cooperative, but we just don't have the cooperation that I think we should have."

And then Gwin says this: "This is much bigger and wider than just Randy 'Duke' Cunningham. All that has just not come out yet, but it won't be much longer and then you will know just how widespread this is."

So now we've got the response from the self-confessedly corrupt Alphonso Jackson.

He was just kidding.

HUD spokeswoman Dustee Tucker told the Chicago Sun-Times: ''The secretary's story was anecdotal. He is not part of the contracting process. He was trying to explain to this group how politics works in D.C."

This doesn't sound like a particularly exculpatory explanation. That story was made up. Jackson was just how explaining how he does business?

Then there's this ...

Tucker said Jackson does not plan to resign. She acknowledged that he did not tell the audience the story was made up. But, she said, Jackson used the ''hypothetical'' story to describe the ruthless politics of Washington. She said Jackson was trying to convey that Washington is a place where political opponents, rather than stabbing you in the back, ''will stab you in the chest.''

This 'hypothetical' sounds more like he was trying to explain how he operates.