Holding the Government Accountable

Wilkes and the L-Words: Lewis, Lowery and Limos

The Los Angeles Times' Peter Pae and Dan Morain have filled out even more of the story of how Brent Wilkes built a web of political and government connections in service of avarice. Besides the fallen Duke Cunningham, several current and former legislators are within Wilkes' orbit--and have been for some time.

Though it's been known, thanks to a San Diego Union Tribune piece from December, that Wilkes and the CIA's soon-to-be-departing # 3 official Kyle "Dusty" Foggo have been lifelong friends, Pae and Morain discovered that Foggo and Wilkes have been friends with former Rep. Bill Lowery, since Lowery was a City Councilman. As POGO pointed out in a post last Friday, Lowery had lobbied for Wilkes' company ADCS and is connected, through another lobbying client, to Shirlington Limo and Transportation Service--the outfit that allegedly ferried hookers to Wilkes' hospitality suites in DC-area hotels. It was also previously known that Wilkes took members of Congress, including Lowery, on trips to visit the Contras and CIA officials such as Foggo in Central America during the 1980s.

Speaking of Central America, Pae and Morain also write that:

[Rep. Jerry] Lewis [R-CA] said Friday that he knew Wilkes socially years ago and even took a trip with him to Guatemala. But the lawmaker insisted he never had discussions with Wilkes about federal contracts.

In 1999, Lewis and Cunningham teamed up to slash $2 billion for the F-22 citing cost overruns. This came a week after a Pentagon manager refused to move funds to Wilkes' ADCS at Cunningham's bidding. Though this may be a case of lawmakers seeking accountability through the power of the purse in a major weapons system procurement, the timing begs the question: Were Lewis and Cunningham seeking to punish the Pentagon for not doing Cunningham's bidding? The LA Times notes the conflicting two interpretations of the episode:

Within days, the same Pentagon manager who had been resistant to Cunningham's appeals sent the congressman a list of other programs where money could be "reallocated" to Wilkes' firm, according to court documents. "The Defense Department spends $1 billion a day, so the [Wilkes] contract was like a rounding error. It just wasn't worth putting our big programs at risk," a senior Pentagon official said on condition he not be identified.

On Friday, Lewis said "there was no connection whatsoever" between his position on the F-22 program and Cunningham's effort to pressure the Pentagon on Wilkes' behalf. "If I knew about it, I would have stopped it," Lewis said.

The Pentagon agreed to send $5 million more to Wilkes' firm, according to court documents. The F-22 funds were later restored. In subsequent years, Cunningham and Lewis supported full funding for the warplane.

There have been a lot of F-22 cost overruns over its lifespan. So why pick on it in 1999? To play devil's advocate for a moment, Lewis did become chair of the Defense appropriations subcommittee in 1999, and the San Diego Union Tribune characterized the above episode as an "early demonstration of fiscal toughness." Was it? Or was it something else?

And finally, in another echo of the Darleen Druyun-Boeing Tanker Lease scandal (more on this later) and another example of the revolving door, the LA Times discovered one of Wilkes' insiders at the Pentagon: Mark Adams, deputy undersecretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. "Adams oversaw contracts awarded to ADCS in the late 1990s. Within a month of leaving his government post, Adams joined Wilkes' payroll. Adams could not be reached for comment," Pae and Morain write. "The Pentagon inspector general is now reviewing contracts that were awarded to Wilkes, a Pentagon source said."