Saturday, June 17, 2006

DHS official may have lied under oath to Dukestir grand jury

The good folks at TPM Muckraker have found another juicy nugget from the ongoing saga that is the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal.  Apparently, DHS officials have been asserting under oath that there was no correspondence from the Duke to the Department of Homeland Security that recommended they use Shirlington Limousine, the company that was involved with the wild hooker and poker parties at the Watergate.

Interestingly and not so surprisingly, one day after a DHS official swore that there was no record of a letter from Duke Cunningham to DHS pushing for a contract with the agency (a $21 million contract, mind you...), the letter, dated January 16, 2004 magically appeared.

And guess what, it was REPUBLICANS on the House Homeland Security Committee, including Peter King (NY) and Mike Rogers (AL) who were questioning the "truthiness" of the DHS officials.

For starters, we have these gems of quotes by King (who is one of my least favorite people in Congress) and Rogers:

"The Department of Homeland Security has a lot to explain," a press release quoted chairman Peter King (R-NY) as saying. "Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, it now turns out that the Department had the Cunningham letter all along. This is yet another example of DHS incompetence-and I think it may have been more than just bad record-keeping."

"This letter certainly puts the Department's credibility on the line, and raises further questions about political manipulation in the contracting process,"
the release quotes Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) as saying.

Wow.....stunning to be coming from Republicans, especially thinly veiled accusations of, um, "funny business".  And it gets better - according to articles released today, DHS was not even considering hiring a limousine service at the time Duke sent his letter to them:

Although Baker is a convicted felon, Cunningham gave him a character reference Jan. 16, 2004.


At the time, the department had no plans to hire a limousine service. But within three months, the department gave Baker a $3.8 million contract. A year later, he got a contract worth up to $21.2 million.

Until recently, Homeland Security officials have denied that any legislators were involved in the contract. In May, department officials twice told Congress that they had no record of Cunningham's letter.

On Thursday, however, Baker gave Congress a sworn affidavit that he had sent the letter to the department. Homeland Security officials said they found an e-mail mentioning the letter but had no other evidence of its existence.

The letter itself is only a few short paragraphs but it certainly says a lot:

I am writing this letter as a character reference for Mr. Christopher Baker, CEO of Shirlington Limousine and Transportation, Inc.

I have personally known Mr. Baker since the mid 1990's.  He is completely dedicated to his work, and has been of service to me and other Members of Congress over the years.  Mr. Baker's transportation-oriented business was able to withstand the devastating impact of 9/11, while operating from Hangar 7 at Ronald Reagan International airport.

Please be advised of my full support of his wish to provide transportation services for the Department of Homeland Security.

It is a rare occasion where so much is said by so few words (and with Congress, it is usually the opposite).  A character reference for a convicted felon.  Who has "been of service to me and other Members of Congress over the years".  Yeah, I'll bet how much "service" he has been....especially with his "transportation-oriented" business.  I guess that is what you can call running hookers and politicians to "poker parties".  And at a time when DHS wasn't even considering the use of a limousine service.

Not bad for what became a $21 million contract.

What is truly amazing is not only (as noted above) that Republicans are calling bullshit on this, but how DHS "conveniently" had found the "misfiled letter" right after they found out how Baker was testifying before the Grand Jury.

FBI agents have been investigating whether the company - while working for Brent Wilkes, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Cunningham corruption case - helped Wilkes arrange for prostitutes for Cunningham while Wilkes was vying for federal contracts.

Wilkes and Shirlington founder Christopher Baker have denied any involvement with prostitutes. But Baker has said through his lawyer that he provided transportation for "entertainment" at Wilkes' hospitality suites in Washington from 1990 to the early part of the decade.

At a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, it was revealed that Baker has been testifying before a grand jury. The committee is probing whether Cunningham pressured Homeland Security to give Shirlington a contract.

Yup, just another "coincidence".  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.  First, we hear how someone got into DHS headquarters with a fake ID and now we find out that they, um, "misplaced" a damaging letter, only to have it magically appear the day after it was discovered that someone was testifying that such a letter did exist.

Tell me again how we are safer?

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