Sunday, August 06, 2006



If you're a regular DWT reader you already know who Brent Wilkes is and probably read about his congressional poker games and call girls. If you don't, you may get a kick out of finding out. Today's New York Times revisits the sordid and still unfolding tale of Republican rainmaker Wilkes in a major feature entitled "Deal maker Details the Art of Greasing the Palm." You simply can't walk away from the 4 pages without wondering why Randy "Duke" Cunningham is the only Republican in prison for the widespread corruption that virtually defines the GOP political culture of the last half dozen years in Washington, from lowlife slimeball congressmen to a lowlife slimeball president and vice president (yes, Wilkes gave BushCheney hundreds of thousands of dollars in quasi-legal bribes too).

Writers David Johnston and David Kirkpatrick begin where federal prosectors should have-- long ago: "In 1992, Brent R. Wilkes rented a suite at the Hyatt Hotel a few blocks from the Capitol. In his briefcase was a stack of envelopes for a half-dozen congressmen, each packet containing up to $10,000 in checks. Mr. Wilkes had set up separate meetings with the lawmakers hoping to win a government contract, and he planned to punctuate each pitch with a campaign donation."

Wilkes was being schooled in the fine points of criminal bribery and corruption by then congressman/now lobbyist and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis' personal bagman, Bill Lowery of San Diego. Wilkes calls the payoffs to congressmen-- large sums of cash for the humongous taxpayer-financed earmarks that made him a multimillionaire-- "transactional lobbying." (A note: anonymous earmarks-- there were 12,000 this year, amounting to $64 billion of our taxes this year alone-- have come up for abolition by reformers but every attempt at reform was killed by Jerry Lewis, Duncan Hunter, John Boehner and Roy Blunt, the 4 biggest abusers-- along with Dennis Hastert-- of the practise.)

As all Republicans do when caught red-handed, he claims he did nothing wrong. In Cunningham's plea agreement Wilkes' played the role of "co-conspirator number 1." Cunningham admits accepting almost $2.5 million in bribes from Wilkes and other defense contractors in return for legislative favors. In the fast Inside-the-Beltway world created largely by Tom DeLay and his henchmen where slime like Wilkes and Abramoff and Lowery thrive, maybe its possible to actually believe nothing "wrong" took place. Welcome to George Bush's Washington.

Offering a rare insider's view, Mr. Wilkes described the appropriations process as little more than a shakedown. He said that lobbyists close to the committee members unceasingly demanded campaign contributions from entrepreneurs like him. Mr. Wilkes and his associates have given more than $706,000 to federal campaigns since 1997, according to public records, and he said he had brought in more as a fund-raiser. Since 2000, Mr. Wilkes's principal company has received about $100 million in federal contracts. Mr. Wilkes described the system bluntly: "Lowery would always say, 'It is a two-part deal,'" he recalled. "'Jerry [Lewis] will make the request. Jerry will carry the vote. Jerry will have plenty of time for this. If you don’t want to make the contributions, chair the fund-raising event, you will get left behind.'"

Top right wing attorney for the Republican criminal class, Barbara Comstock-- who represents, for example, Scooter Libby-- is busy trying to keep Lewis out of prison. She claims, of course, that Lewis knows nothing about anything. But the evidence is stacking up higher than the Sierra Madres. The Times points out that "the culture of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee [which Lewis ran before buying the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee and from which his pal Cunningham was doing the dirty deeds that landed him in prison for 8 years] is one of great power and little scrutiny. Mr. Wilkes said every member appeared to have a personal allowance of millions of dollars to disburse without public disclosure."

But they're all innocent. Lewis is innocent. Hunter is innocent. Bush, Cheney, Wilkes, Ney, Doolittle... all innocent. Which is what Cunningham said when they caught him too-- until he broke down and cried and blamed everyone around him, plead guilty to reduced charges and agreed to rat out some of his former cohorts. Like I said, this sordid story is still being played out.


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