WASHINGTON – A powerful House Republican from California disputed a report Thursday that he is the target of a federal investigation focusing on his ties to a lobbyist linked to disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis also denied any wrongdoing in his role in awarding federal funds.
"Neither I nor any of my staff has been contacted by the Department of Justice with regard to an investigation into my congressional service," Lewis said in response to a story in the Los Angeles Times.
"I am angered and frustrated by anonymous sources, either inside or out of the Justice Department, who would imply to journalists that an investigation has been launched when no suggestion has been made that an investigation is needed," he said.
Citing three unnamed people familiar with the investigation, the Times reported Thursday that the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles has issued subpoenas in an investigation into Lewis' relationship to longtime friend Bill Lowery, a Washington lobbyist and former congressman from San Diego.
The Times did not specify who had been subpoenaed or what was being sought, and a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles declined to comment to The Associated Press. An earlier Copley News Service story said that Lewis has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in federal projects for Lowery's clients.
Those clients have included ADCS Inc., a San Diego defense contracting firm founded by Brent Wilkes, an unindicted coconspirator in Cunningham's corruption case. Cunningham is serving a prison term of eight years, four months after pleading guilty in November to taking $2.4 million in homes, yachts and other bribes from Wilkes and others.
Wilkes and ADCS, along with Lowery and some of his other clients, all have donated heavily to Lewis over the years.
"I have never, under any circumstances, told or suggested to someone seeking federal dollars for a project that they would receive favorable treatment by making campaign donations," Lewis' statement said. "If I learned that anyone on my staff made such a suggestion, they would no longer be working for me."
He also said that he never recommended lobbyists to constituents, or paid attention to who was lobbying for which projects. The Appropriations Committee controls much discretionary spending and members have a powerful role in determining "earmarks," or funding for specific projects.
"I welcome a thorough review of these projects by anyone," Lewis said.
Lewis also said he had never been as angry at anyone in his entire career as he was at Cunningham, who served with him on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. "The standards of integrity I have followed in my career are a direct repudiation of the kind of behavior displayed by Mr. Cunningham," he said.
The ties between Lewis and Lowery, whom Cunningham replaced in Congress, include staffers who have worked for both of them. According to the Times, Appropriations Committee deputy staff director Jeff Shockey worked first for Lewis, then went to work for Lowery in 1999, and returned last year to Lewis' staff — getting $600,000 in severance payments from Lowery's firm.
A message left for Shockey was not immediately returned.
Another Lewis aide, Letitia White, reportedly became a lobbyist for Lowery in 2003.