It’s a cliche: what a difference a Democratic congressional majority makes. The US attorney scandal, Walter Reed, the suppression of global warming data, the FBI’s misuse of national security letters–Democratic legislators have been demanding documents, testimony and answers. Given that they now hold the purse strings and can shoot out subpoenas, the Democrats can no longer be ignored by the White House, executive agencies, and the media. Representative Henry Waxman, the relentless Democratic chairman of the government oversight and reform committee, has been leading the pack in investigating allegations of administration wrongdoing. (See my 2005 profile of Waxman here.) There’s a lot for Waxman to cover, and he’s being thorough. Consider the letter he sent the White House on Monday.
In that note to Joshua Bolten, President Bush’s chief of staff, Waxman requested information about a $140,000 contract the White House awarded in July 2002 to MZM, Inc. This was Mitchell Wade’s company. He’s the (now former-) military contractor who paid more than $1 million in bribes to Republican Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who’s in jail for having accepted these and other bribes in return for steering federal contracts to Wade and Brent Wilkes, another defense contractor. (Wade pleaded guilty; Wilkes has not.) What’s intriguing about the contract Wade received from the White House is that its amount equals the price Wade paid in August 2002 to buy the Duke-Stir, the yacht Cunningham lived (and partied) on in Washington. According to the sentencing recommendation memo in Cunningham’s case, Cunningham himself negotiated the $140,000 purchase price of the boat in the summer of 2002. This raises the intriguing possibility that Wade that summer needed money to buy Cunningham the yacht and–presto–a White House contract materialized.
And there’s more: this contract was Wade’s first prime contract with the federal government. The firm had been incorporated in 1993 but had pulled in no revenue through 2001. So Cunningham scandal watchers have wondered, did a White House contract help launch Wade on his felonious ways, and was this contract legitimate?
The modest contract reportedly covered supplying computers and office furniture to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. By the time it was signed, MZM, which had become an approved federal contractor only two months earlier, was already bribing Cunningham, a member of the influential defense appropriations subcommittee. Two months later, in September 2002, MZM hit it big, scoring a $250 million, five-year contract with the General Services Administration. Look at the timeline, one congressional investigator notes: May, MZM was listed as a federal supplier; July, it won a White House contract for $140,000; September, it obtained a $250 million contract. A not-too-suspicious mind could wonder if something–or someone–was juicing the process.