Carol Chien-Hua Lam
Before the White House fired her from her job as the U.S. Attorney for San Diego,
Lam led a corruption investigation that exposed at least one Congressman who was
selling access to sensitive defense and intelligence contracts to the highest
bidder. That Congressman – Republican Rep. Randall “Duke”Cunningham, of
California – pleaded guilty to bribery in 2005, but Lam was just warming up.
She won guilty pleas from four people involved in the scandal, and indicted three
others including the No. 3 official at the CIA.
Meanwhile, her probe widened to include other members of Congress. On the day the public learned that Lam was investigating U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-California, word went out in the White House – “The real problem we have right now is Carol Lam.”
Lam was fired just a few months later, on the same day she’d subpoenaed two committees in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the CIA.
Lam was one of at least eight other federal prosecutors fired by the White House over nine months in 2006. Most, including Lam, had angered the Republican Party by aggressively investigating corruption at the highest levels of government.
Of the fired prosecutors, Lam’s investigation was the most far-reaching. In his guilty plea, Cunningham admitted that two defense contractors gave him bribes totaling more than $2 million. In return, Cunningham used his seats on two of the House’s most powerful committees – the Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations Committee – to direct lucrative contracts to the contractors, Mitchell Wade of MZM Inc. and Brent Wilkes of ADCS Inc.
Wade pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges in Feburary 2006, and admitted not only bribing Cunningham, but also influencing officials in the Defense Department and attempting to influence other members of Congress. An investigation into Cunningham’s activities at the Intelligence Committee found that Wade also tried, but failed, to “curry favor” with the staffers there, possibly through bribery.
After Cunningham named Wilkes as one of the men who bribed him, the scope of Lam’s investigation widened to take in some of his close friends and associates. They included Brant “Nine Fingers” Bassett, a former CIA agent who once worked for the House Intelligence Committee, and Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, who in October 2004 was named Executive Director of the CIA.
Lam began to probe whether Foggo illegally helped Wilkes receive CIA contracts. He resigned his post at the CIA in May 2006, days before the FBI raided his home and office. CIA Director Porter Goss resigned as well, as the FBI began looking into how Foggo rose from the agency’s middle-management to its third-highest position virtually overnight.
As Lam closed in on Wilkes and Foggo, official resistance to her investigation intensified. In March 2006, Lam asked Congressional leaders for documents relating to Cunningham’s corruption from the House committees on Intelligence and Armed Services. Although the Intelligence Committee conducted an investigation of its own regarding how Cunningham’s corruption may have weakened national security, then-Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, dragged his feet on fulfilling Lam’s requests. So did Duncan Hunter, R-California, chairman of Armed Services.
The foot-dragging by Hoekstra and Hunter endangered the evidence Lam sought. After the House changed hands in the 2006 election, many paid employees of the committees left their jobs, and as they did so, they would take home records and wipe clean hard drives. The longer Hoekstra and Hunter waited, the better the chances that letters, reports and emails would be destroyed. Lam moved to prevent this late in 2006 by subpoenaing the House committees.
The CIA, too, resisted Lam’s investigation, openly refusing to hand over documents she requested. Among the papers Lam subpoenaed from the House committees were documents relating to CIA contracts.
Efforts to force her out began at least as early as the spring of 2006. In May that year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Justice Department was investigating Lewis, and that same day, a senior White House staffer sent out an email saying: “The real problem we have right now is Carol Lam. That leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”
Lewis was chairman of the Appropriations Committee during the years that Cunningham was using it to enrich the men who bribed him, and the Justice Department is investigating Lewis’ relationship to a lobbyist connected to the scandal. Though Lam’s investigation set off the Lewis inquiry, by then she was no longer handling it. It had been moved to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, because that is Lewis’ home district. That U.S. Attorney, Debra Wong Yang, left office at the height of the federal prosecutors purge.
Even as she was being pushed out the door, Lam continued to score anti-corruption victories. She was fired on December 7, 2006, and that same month, she sought and won a subpoena for the House records that Hoekstra and Hunter had failed to deliver. Thomas Kontogiannis, a New York multimillionaire who’d helped bribe Cunningham, pleaded guilty to his role in the corruption scandal in February 2007.
Lam set her last day in office for February 15. That same day, a grand jury indicted Wilkes and Foggo.
- U.S. Attorney Resignation Made on Threat of Immediate Firing, TPM Muckraker, June 19, 2007
- White House emails about firing Lam one day after hearing about Lewis investigation:
- http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-na-usattys15mar15,1,7005928,pri nt.story
- Firing announcement in Union-Trib: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20070112-9999-1n12lam.html
- Cunningham wore a wire before his plea agreement was announced: http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=1081 6
- Lam’s firing definitely political: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070113/news_1m13lam.html
- Her investigation unsettled the CIA: http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/002305.php
- http://users1.wsj.com/lmda/do/checkLogin?mg=wsj-users1&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.w sj.com%2Farticle%2FSB116830637791570873.html%3Fmod%3Drss_whats_news_us
- Indict Wilkes by Feb. 15: http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/002386.php
- Seven, then nine, then 11 U.S. attorneys replaced by political appointees:http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/01/court.html
- Los Angeles Times, January 4 2007: Prosecutors demand files of 3 House panels The subpoenas step up a U.S. probe of earmarks in spending measures. By Richard B. Schmitt, Times Staff Writer January 4, 2007