Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Thin Line Between Lobbying and Bribery

The trial of defense contractor Brent Wilkes for allegedly paying bribes to former Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham began with his attorney, Mark Geragos, asserting that there were no improper payments but instead just the usual business of a Congressman lobbying the Pentagon.  According to a San Diego Union-Tribune story (here), Geragos said in his opening statement that Cunningham lobbied on behalf of a constituent (Wilkes) with the usual currency of Capitol Hill in dealing with the bureaucracy: threats and other forms of pressure.  This is the "business as usual" defense, that if everyone does it then it can't be bribery.  Any benefits conferred on Cunningham were not connected to the lobbying, and so the argument would be that a quid pro quo cannot be established for a bribery conviction.  Needless to say, the government takes a somewhat less benign view of Cunningham's efforts on Wilkes' behalf, and has already threatened to bring out testimony about the presence of prostitutes in a hot tub as one of the unseemly benefits Wilkes gave in exchange for Cunningham's help to obtain $85 million in no-bid contracts.  Whether the jury will accept the defense assertion that there is an "innocent explanation" for the benefits is an open question, and Geragos made it clear that if the government doesn't call the former Congressman the defense will.  That testimony promises to generate a few fireworks. (ph)

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