Published: November 28, 2005
U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) resigned today after pleading guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges.
Peter Overby, NPR power, money and influence correspondent [Copyright 2013 NPR]
NEAL CONAN, host:
California Republican Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned today after pleading guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges. Until today, Cunningham represented a district in San Diego. Joining us here in Studio 3A is Peter Overby, NPR's power, money and influence correspondent.
And, Peter, nice to have you on the program.
PETER OVERBY reporting:
CONAN: Tell us a little bit more about what Congressman Cunningham--I guess former Congressman Cunningham has pleaded guilty to today.
OVERBY: Well, Neal, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to take bribes totaling $2.4 million; also pleaded guilty to tax evasion. The conspiracy-to-bribe count has a lot of elements in it. There are 52 items in the list in the plea agreement. The biggest one involves a house deal where Cunningham sold his house to a defense contractor--his house in San Diego. Cunningham took the proceeds and bought a $ 2 1/2 million mansion. The defense contractor sold the old house, took a $700,000 loss in...
CONAN: In the market in San Diego?
OVERBY: That's right. Yes, $700,000 loss in San Diego. So--and then it goes on to a lot of other things: The defense contractor supplied a boat called the Dukester for Cunningham to live on in Washington on the Anacostia River, supplied $13,000 for him to buy a Rolls-Royce, paid a considerable amount of money to have work done on the Rolls, paid money for Cunningham's daughter's graduation party--there's just a whole raft of things--antiques. It goes on.
CONAN: I guess that's the quid. What's the pro quo? What did the contractor get in return?
OVERBY: Defense contract, apparently. Cunningham was in a position to promote this company to the Defense Department to get contracts in intelligence and counterintelligence, which was the area that Cunningham oversaw as a subcommittee chairman.
CONAN: Now earlier this year when this story started to come out, Congressman Cunningham said, `I would never put the interests of a friend or a contractor above the interests of my country. I trust that the facts will bear out this truth over time.' Today he in a tearful confession at a news conference announced his resignation and said that he had known a great many emotions and rewards in his life and now understood shame.
OVERBY: Yeah. The investigation did not bear out those facts, so--and he's had a remarkable career. He started out as a naval aviator. He flew in the Vietnam War; he was an ace. He shot down five North Vietnamese MiGs. From what I've read, he's the first fighter ace in history to shoot down the five planes using missiles, not machine guns. He was the role model for the top gun commander in the Tom Cruise movie, and he was elected from this district that includes a Marine air station. And he's been representing...
CONAN: It's Colorado, I think. Yes.
OVERBY: Yeah. And he's been representing that district in Congress since 1990 up until now.
CONAN: He is a man who has been--as you mentioned, due to his military record and not just those things but many others--considered a hero, an American hero by so many. Yet somebody who has clearly now pleaded guilty to selling his office.
OVERBY: Yeah, which is pretty remarkable. And it's a case that is much starker in the facts of it than most scandal cases you see coming out of Congress where more typically the lobbyists and the lawmaker get so close that the line is blurry--you know, maybe they crossed the line, maybe they didn't. But this, you know, a house, a boat--things like that--are pretty meaningful.
CONAN: As you mentioned, there are other investigations going on involving lobbyists perhaps of a more traditional variety or untraditional, at least in their approach, at least in terms of Mr. Scanlon, who's confessed to some of these, illegal, but these involve Mr. Abramoff and allegedly members of Congress. Are these connected in any way?
OVERBY: They're not. The Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon case involves--they were lobbying for Indian tribes, supposedly overcharging the tribes, Scanlon kicking back money to Abramoff. This is what Scanlon pleaded guilty to last week. And then also doing favors for members of Congress--things like free meals, golf trip to Scotland, sky box seats at sporting events. If there's a house or a boat involved in these other cases, it hasn't come up yet.
CONAN: Well, stay tuned. It may come up yet. Peter Overby, thanks very much for being with us.
OVERBY: You're welcome.
CONAN: Peter Overby is NPR's power, money and influence correspondent. He joined us here in Studio 3A.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.