The Feds have another big lawmaker in their crosshairs, we learned recently: prosecutors are looking into the dealings of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chair of the House appropriations committee, a longtime Defense porkbarreler and one of the most powerful men in Congress.
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Hanging like a loose thread from the tails of stories about Lewis' troubles has been the name of his longtime aide, Letitia White. First as his "gatekeeper," then as a lobbyist for some of his closest corporate friends, White's otherwise unremarkable career reveals the kind of questionable activities that have reportedly drawn the Justice Department's interest: how powerful interests became closely linked in a multi-million-dollar cornucopia of wealth for all involved. Including White.
For over two decades White worked for Lewis, and was reportedly known as his "gatekeeper." His allies were her allies. For instance, Lewis fought for a decade on behalf of San Diego contractor General Atomics, forcing the Pentagon to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on GA's Predator UAV, which the generals didn't want.
In return, General Atomics donated generously to Lewis' campaign and PAC, and hosted at least one fundraiser for Lewis -- along with "Duke" Cunningham, now in jail for corruption, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).
Indeed, some of the sordid details of the Cunningham saga are echoed in GA's bruising Beltway tactics, particularly how defense contractors would work Cunningham over to force the Pentagon to heel. "His goal has always been to sidestep the regular procurement process," Aviation Week reported last year of Tom Cassidy, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the GA subsidiary which makes the Predator. "'He threatens general officers with congressional action if they don't pay attention to him,'" the publication quotes an anonymous former Air Force officer saying of the man.
In 2002, General Atomics paid for White and her husband to take a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Italy, at a reported cost of nearly $8,500. It may have made an impression: White left Lewis' employ some months later, on Jan. 8, 2003, to work at the lobby shop of Lewis' old friend, Bill Lowery. (The feds are reportedly probing Lewis' ties to Lowery, his firm and his clients.) An old friend followed her: on Jan. 9, the very next day, she filed with Congress to lobby on behalf of General Atomics.