Voters in the northern reaches of San Diego, centered around the town of Poway, California, sent Randy “Duke” Cunningham to Congress for a generation. In short order he became one of the most powerful Republicans in the House of Representatives. Cunningham was–or so it seemed–a war hero from Vietnam, and he plied his military record for everything it was worth. And it seems that Cunningham was also one of the most corrupt members of Congress in history–indeed, arguably the most corrupt.
His story might furnish a cautionary tale of the era of Bush and for the 109th Congress, considered by Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein to have been the most spectacularly corrupt in the nation’s history. And indeed, it’s too good not to be the subject of a book. And now it is–by the reporters whose diligent work proved that exposé journalism was not dead in Southern California, and who ultimately put U.S. attorney Carol Lam on to the “Dukester’s” trail (which in turn brought about her own fall at the hands of Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales). The book is called The Wrong Stuff: The Extraordinary Saga of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Most Corrupt Congressman Ever Caught and it appears in bookstores on Monday.
Across the page at “Washington Babylon” my colleague Ken Silverstein offers an interview with one of the authors, Marcus Stern. Don’t miss the discussion of “original sin”–namely, did Cunningham become corrupted by Washington, or was he always that way?
And catch this passage from the book, which makes clear just how “dirty” Duke Cunningham really was:
even Wilkes drew a line on what he would do for the congressman. For one thing, Wilkes was totally disgusted by the hot tub Cunningham put on the boat’s deck during the autumn and winter. What repelled Wilkes — and others invited to the parties — was both the water Cunningham put in the hot tub and the congressman’s penchant for using it while naked, even if everybody else at the party was clothed. Cunningham used water siphoned directly from the polluted Potomac River and never changed it out during the season. “Wilkes thought it was unbelievably dirty and joked if you got in there it would leave a dark water line on your chest,” said one person familiar with the parties. “The water was so gross that very few people were willing to get into the hot tub other than Duke and his paramour.” That was a reference to Cunningham’s most frequently seen girlfriend, a flight attendant who lived in Maryland.
One of these parties started at the Capital Grille with Cunningham ordering his usual filet mignon – very well done – with iceberg lettuce salad and White Oak. Wilkes used the dinner to update Cunningham on the appropriations he wanted. Cunningham then took the whole group back to the boat where they drank more wine, sitting on white leather sofas while Cunningham told more war stories. Cunningham then took his clothes off and invited all to join him in the polluted hot tub that was hidden from the neighbors by a white tarp. There were no takers.
Now that’s the sort of dirt that we only very rarely see in a Washington scandal.