In my 2007 book Follow the Money, I asked the question: “What if the global war on terror had, at least in part, been the public face used to conceal millions—perhaps even billions—of dollars in corrupt appropriations being siphoned into top-secret contracts?”

When thinking about the “Duke” Cunningham affair and the subsequent dismissal of San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, the prosecutor in that case and in the related case of former number three official in the CIA, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, I kept coming back to the same point: “What if a small coterie of Appropriations, Defense, Homeland Security, and Intelligence committee members were, in fact, on the take and engaged in a massive giveaway of federal funds?”

The hapless Randy Cunningham had been well-placed for such an endeavor. At the time of his forced resignation, the “Duke”—captain also of the royal yacht “Duke Stir”—stood sixteenth among Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee. More to the point, however, Cunningham was the third-ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (“House Intel”) and a member in good standing of the single most powerful subcommittee in the House of Representatives: Defense Appropriations, with the power of the purse over not only the Department of Defense, but also CIA, NSA, and Homeland Security.

Consider:

By 2006, Cunningham’s boss on the House Appropriations Committee, Jerry Lewis of California, controlled over $900 billion in federal spending. Between 1998 and 2004, spending on “earmarks” had tripled, from $10.6 billion in 1998 to 15,884 in 2004 worth $32.7 billion.

Many of the earmarks were, in turn, to be found in defense appropriations, many of which were, because of their national security classifications, deemed “secret” or “top secret.” Before becoming chair of “Big Approps,” Lewis had been chair of Defense Approps.

As for Cunningham, his role as chair of the House Intel Subcommittee on Analysis & Counterintelligence brought him into frequent contact with House Intel Chair Porter Goss of Florida—the future CIA director—and with Goss’s close friend and staff aide, “Dusty” Foggo.

Throw in Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania—vice chair of both House Armed Services and House Homeland Security—and you have a mighty fine foursome: Lewis at House Defense Approps; Goss at House Intel; Cunningham at Defense Approps and Intel; and Weldon at Armed Services and Homeland Security.

In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that Weldon’s daughter Karen had landed $1 million in lobbying contracts; and two years later, the same newspaper reported that a Weldon “family friend” had landed still more lobbying contracts. Her partner, it turned out, was married to the son of Florida Republican Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young, the former chair of “Big Approps” and Lewis’ successor as chair of “Defense Approps.”

You get the picture.

Today, Cunningham is in prison (serving an eight-year term for having accepted more than $2 million in bribes), and Foggo has been convicted of corruption charges arising from the same defense contracting scheme. Goss resigned from CIA for “personal reasons” at about the time Foggo was indicted; and Weldon failed for re-election.

But Bill Young remains in a member of the House and of Appropriations—as does Jerry Lewis—two of the longest-serving Republicans in that body and on that committee. In Young’s case since 1971, making him the senior-most Republican in the House.

Lewis, as is well known, has been under scrutiny for years now, primarily for his relationship with defense-related contractors and lobbyists, among them his best friend, fellow former Appropriator, retired Republican Congressman Bill Lowery. [See, for example, Copley News Service reporter Jerry Kammer’s story detailing the relationship, December 23, 2005.]

It’s widely believed that Carol Lam’s place on the list of dismissed U.S. Attorneys stemmed from her role in the Cunningham and Foggo investigations—and her role in a potential investigation of Chairman Lewis.

A very Republican tale, thus far.

Now, however, comes news that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the offices of lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti’s PMA Group and, according to a report in the New York Times this week, “appear to be examining the firm’s relationship with Representative Peter J. Visclosky, a low-profile lawmaker with big influence over federal spending.”

Magliocchetti is a former aide and big-time contributor to Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha; and, until this week, it had been the relationship between Magliocchetti and Murtha that had attracted the attention of the press.

But now it’s Murtha and Visclosky.

The Times account described Visclosky as “chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee for energy and water, and thus one of the ‘cardinals’ who control federal spending.”
But you knew there had to be more.

And there is. Visclosky is also a member of House Defense Approps, the chair of which is the most powerful of the cardinals, none other than Jack Murtha.

Readers of George Crile’s best-selling Charlie Wilson’s War will recall the scene wherein House Speaker Tip O’Neill exacted a promise from “Good Time Charlie,” that he would agree to go on the House Ethics Committee in return for a seat on the board of the Kennedy Center. The reason: To protect O’Neill’s good friend and lieutenant, Jack Murtha, the “victim” of an over-zealous federal prosecutor in the ABSCAM affair.

Wilson did what he was asked to do. He accepted the Speaker’s deal. Writes Crile, “Delighted at his lifetime appointment to the Kennedy Center board, he was a happy warrior as he raced to the rescue of his imperiled friend John Murtha.”

As Crile says, Charlie had his work cut for him: “Watching Representative Murtha on the ABSCAM tapes is not an experience designed to make a citizen fee better about Congress.”

Back then—way back then—Jack Murtha was but a lieutenant. Today, he’s a cardinal. Like his pal Pete Visclosky.

This could get very bad.