Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, currently in prison for charges stemming from the bribes he confessed to accepting while in office, is presenting a new narrative to those who’ve been following his spiral into disgrace. Turns out, Cunningham now says, he wasn’t bribed at all. At least not as much.
One of the men convicted of bribing Cunningham, former defense contractor Brent Wilkes, is attempting to reopen his case on the grounds that Cunningham now says the hundreds of thousands in money and stuff Wilkes was convicted of giving him was, in fact, not a bribe at all. In a pair of “declarations” Cunningham made in the past few weeks, the San Diego Union Tribune reports that former Republican congressman said the payments were just “gifts between longtime friends.”
“This was not a bribe to me,” Cunningham said, referring to a more than $500,000 payment Wilkes was convicted of offering Cunningham to help “pay off a mortgage for a $1.2 million mansion Cunningham purchased in Rancho Santa Fe.”
As the paper points out, Cunningham’s new take on the payment is pretty different from what he’s said about it in the past:
That contradicts statements Cunningham has made acknowledging it was a bribe in previous court filings, including correspondence from his lawyers when they were trying to get his sentence reduced because of his cooperation with prosecutors.
For Wilkes — who’s been doing pretty well for himself while out on bail appealing his 2007 bribery conviction — Cunningham’s statement offers a chance at redemption in the form of a retrial. At least that’s what his lawyers say.
For Cunningham, the statement is a big shift from the attitude he’s had toward his case since getting thrown in the slammer in 2006. After pleading guilty in a truly epic bribery case that involved, among other things, the “bribe menu” Cunningham offered defense contractors looking to cash on on his political power, Cunningham struck a contrite note with the judge.
“Your honor I have ripped my life to shreds due to my actions, my actions that I did to myself,” he told the judge at his sentencing. “I made a very wrong turn. I rationalized decisions I knew were wrong. I did that, sir.”
Now, it seems, a least some of the bribes he copped to weren’t actually bribes at all in his mind.
But a close look at Cunningham since he went to prison shows a history of weird statements like the one he offered up last week. In September, he claimed that the judge had abandoned the plea deal he struck with prosecutors four years ago and sent the “KGB IRS” after him and his family.
A month earlier, he told a San Diego newspaper that he was now a prison reform advocate.
“Maybe that’s why God put me here, to bring about much needed prison reform,” he told the paper.