Nearly five months after asking for them, the U.S. attorney’s office is San Diego has not received any of the thousands of pages of documents it has sought from three House committees as part of the continuing criminal probe into the bribery scheme that brought down former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.).
Federal prosecutors and officials in the House general counsel’s office are still negotiating over the parameters of the request, with the House officials seeking to narrow the scope of documents sought by the Justice Department from the Intelligence, Armed Services and Appropriations committees, according to sources close to the issue.
Both sides want to avoid an open confrontation, especially a subpoena from a federal grand jury to the committees. The House also wants to protect its privileges under the Speech or Debate Clause, which shields Members and staffers from prosecution for legislative actions. In addition, concerns have been raised by Members regarding highly classified intelligence documents that prosecutors have sought.
The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego is seeking access to thousands of pages of Congressional documents, some going back to 1997, which relate to Cunningham and government programs he had influence over as a member of the Appropriations and Intelligence panels. Prosecutors also are seeking to interview staffers from several of the committees about their dealings with Cunningham.
The request for the documents and for interviews with staffers came in a March 7 letter to the House General Counsel. Since then, the two sides have exchanged offers, although no final agreement has been reached.
The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego declined to comment for this story.
Cunningham pleaded guilty on Nov. 28 to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes over a five-year period, as well as to tax evasion and fraud. He is serving a 100-month prison sentence, the longest such punishment ever meted out to a former lawmaker, and is currently incarcerated at low-security facility in Butner, N.C., according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Cunningham, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to bribe public officials and election fraud, among other charges. Wade is cooperating with federal prosecutors, and no date has been set yet for his sentencing.
Several other individuals, including Brent Wilkes, a California defense contractor, and Thomas Kontogiannis, a New York developer, have been implicated in the plea deals by Cunningham and Wade.
In the meantime, Reps. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence panel, respectively, want to have committee investigators interview Cunningham and have made a request to the Justice Department to have him made available to their panel. There are no set procedures for House committees compelling interviews with people serving prison sentences.
In an interview last week, Hoekstra said DOJ officials have been unwilling so far to comply with the request, but he remains confident that it will happen, even if the committee has to issue a subpoena for Cunningham.
“It will happen, I 100 percent guarantee it,” Hoekstra said in an interview last Thursday, prior to a trip to Israel with Harman.
Hoekstra said he had not heard any reply from Justice about the request for a Cunningham interview, but he anticipated that “it may not be easy” to gain access to Cunningham.
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