Rep. Peter Hoekstra
In May 2006, as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Hoekstra appeared
to take steps to protect the nation’s intelligence from the corruption of officials
like former Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham. But by July, Hoekstra was quietly
stalling two investigations into the effects of that same corruption. In the waning
days of 2006, his tactics bought time for staff members of the Intelligence
Committee to legally destroy evidence subpoenaed by the Justice Department.
Hoekstra, R-Michigan, chaired the House Intelligence Committee in 2004 through 2006, at the height of the Cunningham corruption scandal. Cunningham was a member of the Committee, and used his position to steer $70 million in government contracts to two defense contractors who’d paid him bribes. He pleaded guilty to charges related to his corruption and began serving an 8-year prison term in 2006.
Hoekstra seemed at first to take the high road as the Cunningham scandal broke in the spring of 2006, In May of that year, he demanded that President George W. Bush brief the House Intelligence Committee on significant national intelligence initiatives, possibly [what does ‘possibly’ here mean? did anyone say this was to be included?] including the controversial warrantless-wiretapping program. (The President had not yet briefed the Intelligence Committee, possibly in violation of the law.) [what does asking Bush to brief on wiretaps have to do with Cunningham investigation?]
To assess the damage that Cunningham may have wrought on the Intelligence Committee and the federal agencies that it covers, Hoekstra, along with ranking minority member Rep. Jane Harman, (D-California), appointed an outside Special Counsel to investigate.
In his guilty plea, Cunningham admitted “earmarking” money for the defense contractors who bribed him. In Washington lingo, “earmarking” is a way that members of Congress can reserve money in the federal budget for special purposes, and until January 2007, they could do so anonymously. But the Special Counsel appointed by Hoekstra and Harman found that Cunningham did not stop there. He also browbeat [intimidated?] the paid staff of the Intelligence Committee to write bills to benefit the contractors, and he strong-armed employees at the Department of Defense into routing projects to them, even when their work was shoddy or unfinished.
When the Special Counsel submitted its report to the Intelligence Committee in July 2006, Hoekstra refused to release its non-classified sections to the public. When, in October, it became clear he would wait until at least after the November general election, Harman did it herself.
Hoekstra issued a statement condemning Harman, saying she published the report prematurely, even though the report had been finished for three months. Days later – and three weeks before the 2006 midterm elections -- he suspended a Democrat staff-member of the Intelligence Committee. Hoekstra claimed to suspect the staffer of leaking to the press a National Intelligence Estimate that had been politically damaging to the Republicans. Hoekstra rescinded the suspension after the election.
Hoekstra’s retaliation distracted public attention from the more frightening details of the Special Counsel’s report. Among those findings:
- One of the men who bribed Cunningham, Mitch Wade, did try to ”curry favor” with the committee staff, as the report put it, possibly by bribing them. The paid employees of the House Intelligence Committee have access to much if not most of the classified information about the nation’s intelligence, anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts. Had the contractor been successful, the security implications for the nation could have been devastating.
- Cunningham bullied the committee’s staffers into supporting projects which would be run by Wade and his firm at the Counterintelligence Field Activity, a Defense body created after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. The staff members believed the agency would be “a waste of taxpayer money” and, presciently, they harbored “grave concerns about the propriety” of Cunningham’s relationship with the contractor.
- The House Intelligence Committee staffers were also besieged by bribery attempts by Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, a man who would ultimately rise to the No. 3 office at the CIA, and later be indicted on charges that he accepted bribes from another defense contractor, Brent Wilkes.
- The Special Counsel did not find any evidence of security breaches as a result of the corruption, but it strongly recommended that law enforcement look into the possibility.
In the spring of 2006, Lam asked the Intelligence Committee to turn over documents related to Cunningham’s relationships with Wade and Wilkes. Months later, when the Intelligence Committee under Hoekstra’s leadership failed to respond, Lam subpoenaed the Committee, ordering Hoekstra and the committee to comply. She was fired shortly thereafter.
Hoekstra continued to stall, waiting until December 27 to publish an announcement of the subpoena in the Congressional Record, (as required by law). He left the job of fulfilling it to his successor, Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat. Hoekstra remains on the committee as the ranking minority member.
But Hoekstra’s delays may have allowed evidence against Cunningham to be destroyed. As the 109th Congress drew to a close, staffers on the Intelligence Committee were resigning or changing jobs, and wiping their hard drives and shredding their files before they left. The longer Hoekstra put off fulfilling the subpoena, the more likely it is that valuable evidence was destroyed. An article on this oversight in The Hill, a publication that covers Congress, reported that longstanding House policy also allows staffers to take their records with them, which many former Republican Intelligence Committee workers, now out of a job, may have done. It is unclear, the Hill reported, whether anyone, including Hoekstra, took steps to protect those records.
- Intelligence Panel’s Summary Is Released, San Diego Union-Tribune, October
- Lawmakers Want More Data on Contracting Out Intelligence, Washington Post, May 7, 2006: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/06/AR2006050601088.html
- Statement regarding Harman’s decision (says she did it before committee had a chance to read it, but summary had been ready since July, release was in October): http://intelligence.house.gov/Media/PDFS/Release101706.pdf
- Summary of Cunningham report: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/cunningham/images/061017commiteereport.p df
- Suspecting Leak, Chairman Suspends Panel Staffer, Washington Post, October 21, 2006: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/20/AR2006102000174.html
- Intelligence Panel Staffer Reinstated, Washington Post, November 21, 2006: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/20/AR2006112001140.html
- Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat, New York Times, September 24, 2006: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/24/world/middleeast/24terror.html?pagewanted=2&ei =5090&en=2baeda555d1b398a&ex=1316750400&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss< /li>
- Subpoenas Raise New Questions, The Hill, January 23, 2007: http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/012307/subpoenas.html li>
- Hoekstra and Hunter published notice of subpoenas in Congressional Record on December 27.
- http://www.newsday.com/news/politics/wire/sns-ap-congressman-bribery,0,6811774,print .story?coll=sns-ap-politics-headlines
- http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-subpoena4jan04,1,6900035.story? coll=la-headlines-nation
- Aide to Intelligence Committee sets up a “foundation” to promote National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, receives start up money from defense contractors. Wrote funding proposal to put federal money into foundation’s start-up: http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2004/04/rc040104.html
- Hoekstra speaks at foundation’s first dinner: http://spatialnews.geocomm.com/dailynews/2004/jun/30/news3.html
- Speaking out for intelligence briefing: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/09/AR2006070900705.html
- Reimbursements to his wife in 2005-06: $13,944
- http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/expendetail.asp?CID=N00004155&cycle=2006& amp;name=Diane+Hoekstra
- PAC money 2005-06. Returned?
- http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/memberprofile.asp?cid=N00004155&cycle=2006&e xpand=Q05
- Lobbyist-sponsored trips: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/congtravel/member_report.php?memb er=7122
- Supports ban on online gambling: http://hollandsentinel.com/stories/111306/local_20061113005.shtml