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Saturday, Aug 5, 2006, 1:47 pm

Watergategate: Duke’s Co-Conspirator No. 1 Chats With The NY Times

By Brian Zick

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David Johnston and David Kirkpatrick interview Brent Wilkes, described as “co-conspirator No. 1” in Duke Cunningham's plea agreement, wherein Wilkes describes the "shakedown" business of “transactional lobbying.”
Mr. Wilkes acknowledged that he was a willing participant in what he characterized as a “cutthroat” system in which campaign contributions were a prerequisite for federal contracts.
Offering a rare insider’s view, Mr. Wilkes described the appropriations process as little more than a shakedown. He said that lobbyists close to the committee members unceasingly demanded campaign contributions from entrepreneurs like him. Mr. Wilkes and his associates have given more than $706,000 to federal campaigns since 1997, according to public records, and he said he had brought in more as a fund-raiser. Since 2000, Mr. Wilkes’s principal company has received about $100 million in federal contracts.

Mr. Wilkes described the system bluntly: “Lowery would always say, ‘It is a two-part deal,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘Jerry will make the request. Jerry will carry the vote. Jerry will have plenty of time for this. If you don’t want to make the contributions, chair the fund-raising event, you will get left behind.’ ”
During his Washington visits, Mr. Wilkes held poker games at the Watergate Hotel, in a suite stocked with beer, Scotch and cigars. He invited several congressmen, colleagues and intelligence officials. Among the occasional guests was Kyle Foggo, the chief administrative officer of the Central Intelligence Agency and a childhood friend of Mr. Wilkes.

Federal prosecutors in San Diego are investigating whether Mr. Foggo, who resigned in May after coming under scrutiny, accepted vacation travel expenses from Mr. Wilkes in exchange for a classified agency supply contract, lawyers involved in the case said.
In Mr. Cunningham’s guilty plea, prosecutors portrayed the lawmaker as eager to help Mr. Wilkes. In court documents, they say Mr. Wilkes made cash payments of more than $500,000 to Mr. Cunningham, who intervened to help him earn earmarks and pressed a Defense Department official for faster payment of an inflated invoice. Mr. Cunningham was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison.
Sitting in his office recently, the shelves lined with photographs of himself with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the presidential adviser Karl Rove, Mr. Wilkes reflected on his plight.
via Justin Rood at TPM Muckraker
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