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Oh how the mighty has fallen

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 3, 2006


There's no comfort in "I told you so." — Robert T. Nanninga

[ed.s note: changed the first line to a quote. It just seemed right...]

Watching Randy Duke Cunningham unravel was not pretty. From a pompous congressman professing innocence, to a convicted criminal pleading for pity, the fall of the Dukestir is a study in ethical failure and public embarrassment.

A once-powerful member of the House Defense Appropriations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, the Duke would have chaired the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Human Intelligence Analysis and Counterintelligence during the 109th congress had his greed not got the best of him.

Never a fan of the boorish war hero, I was hardly surprised when bribery allegations surfaced. Ever since learning of the Duke's involvement in the Tailhook scandal, my distain for the Duke was exceeded only by my distain for his politics. Nor was I surprised when he claimed innocence, even as evidence piled up in the largest case of congressional bribery in American history.

Always blunt, and never brilliant, Randy made a career of being a war mongering, "Family values", screw the environment sort of guy. An eight-term Republican congressman, Cunningham resigned after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion. A man broken by an oversized ego and delusions of entitlement and invulnerability, the fighter ace was reduced to tears on the courthouse steps.

Pleading guilty cost him everything, because in doing so Randy Duke Cunningham revealed himself a fraud, an opportunistic liar, and a decorated veteran willing to sell out men and women in uniform for personal gain. Whatever service the "Duke" might have provided God, country and the American way, as a pilot or politician, was canceled out by his criminally corrupt behavior.

Upon pleading guilty in November 2005 to the charges against him, Randy Duke told the gathered press "In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. Now I also know great shame. I intend to use the remaining time as God grants me, to make amends." Pleading guilty was only the beginning; sentencing was slated for early 2006. Facing ten years in Federal prison, Randy and his hired guns went about cultivating pity for the disgraced congressman.

Cunningham's attorneys say their client has recurring prostate cancer and a life expectancy of about seven years. That is why they asked for a six-year sentence. Cunningham's psychiatrist has publicly stated Cunningham is taking medications for anxiety, depression, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. Boo hoo. His friends say he's sad, his family says he's sorry. I say the man should rot in jail.

That Cunningham would play the cancer card, demonstrates how low he is willing to go to avoid the consequences of his actions. To play the age card, and the mental health card demonstrates he was willing to say anything to reduce his sentence. Leniency? Did Randy, grant the soldiers and Marines leniency when he sent them to Baghdad under false pretenses? What kind of war hero tries to hide behind cancer?

Due to the aggravated scope, duration and nature of the crimes U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns sentenced Randy Cunningham to 100 months in prison. That's 8 years, four months for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for steering government work to defense contractors such as Mitchell Wade at the Counterintelligence Field Agency, an organization created after Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the Defense Department from espionage and terrorism.

Wade's company, MZM Inc. of Washington, D.C., collected $163 million between 2002 and 2005 for its work at CIFA and other agencies. Last week, Mitchell Wade pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham with a yacht, cash, cars, antiques and meals, totaling more than $1 million in gifts over four years.

Judge Burns also fined Cunningham $1,804,031.50 for tax evasion. $1,804,031.50 he doesn't have. Jailed and destitute, and with no chance of restitution the mighty flying ace has gone down in simpering smoke. No bang, only whimpers, the Duke will spend his sunset years haunted by regret and faded glory.

The ill spirit of Randy Duke Cunningham will always haunt the 50th district. Like poison in the well, the legacy of Cunningham will be more than a disgraced congressman, done in by greed and gumption, sobbing on the courthouse steps. The Cunningham legacy will be a festering mistrust. Having lowered the ethical bar, future politicians need only promise voters they won't pull a Cunningham to be considered ethical.

Cunningham got less than he deserved, and he should be grateful. Personally, I'm glad Randy is going to waste away in prison. He deserves no less.

It couldn't of happened to a nicer guy.

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