Six Questions, Washington Babylon — July 12, 2007, 9:29 am

Six Questions for Seth Hettena on the Brent Wilkes Trials

Seth Hettena spent nine years with the Associated Press, where he broke stories about a terrorist suspect who was tortured to death by the CIA, revealed photos of Navy SEALs mistreating Iraqi prisoners, and exposed how the military secretly contracted planes for CIA rendition flights. He also reported extensively on the intimate ties defense contractor Brent Wilkes maintained with Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (now a federal inmate) and CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo. He tells that story in his new book, Feasting on the Spoils. With Wilkes soon to go to trial on charges that he bribed Cunningham and Foggo, I recently asked Hettena six questions about the upcoming court cases.

1. The evidence against Wilkes as laid out in the press appears to be pretty strong. What is his defense likely to be?
Wilkes is facing trial in two separate cases that are tangentially related. The first, which will be tried in September, involves bribes he allegedly paid to Congressman Duke Cunningham. Prosecutors claim a variety of bribes were paid, including time with prostitutes. Prosecutors have to show a quid pro quo to win a conviction, and I think showing that Wilkes bought Cunningham a dinner and then got a defense contract won’t be enough. One of the biggest hurdles for Wilkes is a series of checks he wrote to Cunningham to pay for a yacht, though in the end he never bought it. The prosecutors’ version is that afterwards, Wilkes told Cunningham to simply keep the money he gave him for the yacht. Wilkes claims he asked for the money back, Cunningham refused, and there was nothing he could do about it. The second case involves mortgage payments of about $500,000 that Wilkes made on Cunningham’s mansion. Wilkes can’t deny that he made the payments because there’s a paper trail, but he claims Cunningham demanded the money in exchange for arranging federal contracts for Wilkes, that he was shaken down. Prosecutors say that Wilkes demanded the government contracts and pushed the money on Cunningham.

2. What about the second trial?
That one will probably get underway next year and involves bribes Wilkes allegedly paid to Dusty Foggo, the former CIA executive director, in order to win contracts from the agency. The big problem for Wilkes in this case is that his nephew Joel Combs is cooperating with prosecutors. Foggo reportedly lined up several deals for Wilkes, including a $132 million contract to provide commercial cover for a CIA air transport operation. He also is said to have pushed a CIA contractor to hire Wilkes as a lobbyist. The alleged quid pro quos that Foggo received from Wilkes were lavish vacations in Scotland and Hawaii, along with numerous $1,000 meals at restaurants around the world. I’m not sure how Wilkes is going to explain those. I suspect he’ll say Dusty was a lifelong friend and he wanted him along on those vacations independently of anything to do with the contracts.

3. And what is Foggo’s defense likely to be?
I’ve heard that part of his defense will be that some of the contracts he arranged for Wilkes involved the CIA’s preparations for war in Afghanistan and Iraq. He may argue that the CIA was woefully unprepared for war and he was scrambling to equip agency personnel as quickly as possible.

4. Foggo at one point asked that his trial be moved from San Diego to Virginia. What happened with that request?
He told the court that a trial in San Diego would create hardship for him and his family because they live in Virginia, and that his wife wouldn’t be able to attend the trial and provide support to him. The prosecutors came back and said that Foggo was seeking to paint “a picture of a warm, loving, and supportive married life” but that this was “not necessarily an entirely accurate depiction.” They left it at that but they were apparently referring to reports that Dusty had a hearty appetite for women, including prostitutes. In the end, the trial was kept in San Diego.

5. What are some of the lesser-known revelations from the court papers and your book?
One interesting item was that Foggo apparently mentioned to a number of CIA associates that he was considering running for Duke Cunningham’s seat in congress after Cunningham retired. Also, and this is one of my favorite stories in the book, Wilkes in the early-1990s was working for a defense contractor in San Diego who was having problems with a procurement official at the Pentagon. So Wilkes and Foggo cooked up a plot whereby they recruited a couple of off-duty cops, one who was a very attractive woman. She struck up a flirty conversation with the procurement official and basically induced him to come to Florida. Foggo had arranged a hotel room and they taped the official getting drunk and making threatening comments about Wilkes’s boss. Wilkes went back to San Diego and played the tape for his boss–he also asked for $20,000 to cover his expenses–and his boss said, this is great, I’ll take it to the authorities. Wilkes said, don’t do that, the procurement official will just get fired and his replacement could be just as much trouble. Just hold on to the tape, with this you own the guy.

6. Why was Wilkes’s attorney thrown off the Foggo case earlier this week?
Wilkes was being represented by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, who has represented people like Winona Ryder, Michael Jackson, Roger Clinton, and Gary Condit. Geragos refused to undergo a background check so he could get a security clearance to view classified material, of which there were at least 50,000 pages. He said it was akin to a Soviet tactic where the government can tell an attorney what he can and can’t look at. The judge initially went along this but then he saw some of the classified material that the prosecutors had. Whatever was there convinced the judge that Geragos needed to see it–he hinted that it might even be exculpatory. But Geragos still refused to get a background check so the judge had no choice but to remove him from the case. That leaves Wilkes without an attorney, with his trials only months away.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective
Post
Inside the July Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.

The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Post
Europe’s Hamilton Moment·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson

Average number of Americans who are injured by chain saws each year:

36,000

A farmer in Kenya bit a python who tried to eat him.

A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today