They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, reacts to this morning's LA Times piece citing three anonymous sources who say there's a federal corruption investigation into his activities:

"I have never, under any circumstances, told or suggested to someone seeking federal dollars for a project that they would receive favorable treatment by making campaign donations," Lewis' statement said. "If I learned that anyone on my staff made such a suggestion, they would no longer be working for me."

He and his staff have not been contacted by Justice "with regard to an investigation into my congressional service," he said.

"I am angered and frustrated by anonymous sources, either inside or out of the Justice Department, who would imply to journalists that an investigation has been launched," he said, particularly since "no suggestion has been made that an investigation is needed." (I assume CREW is wondering if it's chopped liver.)

But the LA Times' anonymous sources aren't the only ones who have gotten under the lawmaker's skin. Cunningham also made him very, very mad:

Lewis also said he had never been as angry at anyone in his entire career as he was at Cunningham, who served with him on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. "The standards of integrity I have followed in my career are a direct repudiation of the kind of behavior displayed by Mr. Cunningham," he said.

Here's an investigation waiting to happen.

As USA Today most recently reported, most major phone companies acceded to NSA's request to share call information for their Biggest Database in the World project. Only Denver, Colo.-based Qwest declined. The NSA tried everything to get their cooperation, USAT says, before resorting to this fancy bit of unethical and probably illegal arm-twisting:

[T]he [NSA] suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Recall that this was during 2003 and 2004, when Gen. Michael Hayden was still heading up the NSA. One more thing to ask him about at his confirmation hearing?

That's according to Marcus Stern, the Copley News Service reporter who broke the Duke Cunningham story. Here's what he wrote back in March, after Duke's sentencing:

...the onetime war hero's teary acknowledgements of his congressional crimes, including taking more than $2.4 million in bribes, belie the fact that the scope of the plea agreement largely covers his dealings with only two defense contractors over a period of only five years.

There is no evidence that Cunningham has provided any significant information to the government beyond the proof the government already had - much of it from Wade - when Cunningham approached prosecutors about a plea agreement. People closely involved with the case privately admit as much.

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Reacting to today's news that the NSA is "amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans," Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) have put out a statement questioning the legality of the program.

Their statement contains this: "when the Attorney General was forced to testify before the House Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago, he misled the Committee about the existence of the program."

Here's what they're referring to. On April 6, 2006, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the House Judiciary Committee, and in one exchange, Rep. Gerald Nadler (D-NY) tried to nail him down:

NADLER: Number two, can you assure us that there is no warrantless surveillance of calls between two Americans within the United States?

GONZALES: That is not what the president has authorized.

NADLER: Can you assure us that it's not being done?

GONZALES: As I indicated in response to an earlier question, no technology is perfect.


GONZALES: We do have minimization procedures in place...

NADLER: But you're not doing that deliberately?

GONZALES: That is correct.

Below, Justin noted the mixed signals coming from Rick Gwin, the Pentagon's top investigator into the Duke Cunningham case, about Duke's level of cooperation. I called legal experts and asked -- if Cunningham isn't talking to investigators, as Gwin claims, why not?

If Duke's staying silent, it's because prosecutors have already forfeited their only leverage to get him to talk, the experts said. In fact, they've given him incentive to hush up.

Prosecutors rushed Duke's sentencing -- and now that he's in prison, he has little reason to talk to them, the experts told me. Even worse, if Duke tells them anything that implicates him in crimes they didn't know about, he's in for a new world of hurt for violating his plea agreement.

"If I were Duke Cunningham, frankly, I wouldn't be cooperating," Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and the Executive Director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me. "They sentenced him too fast -- once you're sentenced, you're done. There's no more carrot and stick." She went on to explain how an investigation with as wide a scope as the Cunningham investigation typically runs: "Generally, your deal is dependent on cooperating, and your sentencing is put off until your cooperation is complete." Prosecutors should have gotten everything they could from Cunningham long before they sent him off to prison.

Especially telling in this respect is that prosecutors sought the harshest possible sentence for Cunningham - 10 years. In cases where defendants provide a substantial amount of information on other investigation targets, prosecutors typically temper their requested sentence.

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Following published complaints by a Pentagon investigator in the North County (Calif.) Times, the New York Times today reported that former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), now in prison for taking bribes in exchange for legislative favors, is "refusing" to give information or speak with him and his agents.

I spent a good part of yesterday looking into this, and I think the picture's not as clear as the NY Times describes it.

I spoke with the Pentagon investigator, Rick Gwin, yesterday morning, and he repeated his original claim that he was unsatisfied with Cunningham's level of cooperation.

"We haven't talked to [Cunningham]," he said. "He's not talking to us."

Have you asked to speak with him? I asked Gwin.

"He has to make the overture to come forward to us," the investigator said.

So have you ever made a request to Cunningham or his lawyer to interview the prisoner?

"I think we have," he responded, "through my agents. But I have not seen a response."

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From the LA Times:

Federal prosecutors have begun an investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Californian who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, government officials and others said, signaling the spread of a San Diego corruption probe.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has issued subpoenas in an investigation into the relationship between Lewis (R-Redlands) and a Washington lobbyist linked to disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe), three people familiar with the investigation said....

The government is looking into the connection between Lewis and his longtime friend Bill Lowery, the sources said. Lowery, a lobbyist, is a former congressman from San Diego.

As chairman of the Appropriations panel, Lewis has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts for many of Lowery's clients, one of the sources said....

The probe focuses on what one source said was an unusually close relationship between Lewis and Lowery, who served on the House Appropriations Committee together from 1985 to 1993.

Shortly after leaving Congress, Lowery founded Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White, a Washington lobbying firm whose clients include Brent R. Wilkes, a defense contractor who is the focus of a separate probe in San Diego.

It's no secret that the Homeland Security Department's finances are a mess. Hundreds of millions of dollars have gone missing, and the agency has struggled to get its many disparate operations onto a single accounting system. As a result, it has repeatedly failed to explain to Congress how it spends its money.

So what bastion of transparency does the White House tap to take over the vacant post of DHS Chief Financial Officer? The Pentagon guy who helped Halliburton hide from scrutiny over $170 million in disputed charges.

David Norquist, the nominee for DHS CFO (and kid brother to GOP power broker Grover Norquist), had his hearing before the Senate on Monday -- it didn't go smoothly. CQ's Angela Kim is one of the few reporters in Washington who noticed.

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A week ago I reported the Westin Grand and its corporate parent, Starwood Hotels, wouldn't return my calls. The Washington, D.C. hotel had been named as one of the locations of Brent Wilkes' now-infamous poker parties. The Watergate, another alleged location, has confirmed receiving subponeas for more information in connection to the case. I wondered, what about the Westin?

I've continued to call the hotel company, and this morning I finally got a response. Nadine Ayala, a spokeswoman for Starwood, called to say that "right now we have no comment, and no information to share."

She promised to keep me in the loop if that changes.

Here's news to ruin your breakfast: the NSA has been building a massive database of phone calls within the United States. "The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans -- most of whom aren't suspected of any crime," USA Today reports.

And if you want to ruin the rest of your day: the NSA can avoid scrutiny from the Justice Department by refusing to grant investigators security clearances. In fact, they just did that, AP reports, forcing Justice to drop its probe of NSA's domestic wiretapping program.