Who Will Be the Woodward and Bernstein of New ‘Hookergate’ Story?

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By: E&P Staff and The Associated Press

It’s almost too-perfect for the press: a Washington, D.C. sex scandal involving congressmen, lobbyists, poker and prostitutes, partly centered on, you guessed it, the Watergate complex.

So will it be called Watergate II or Hookergate? How high, or low, will it go? In any case, guess who is hitting it hard–The Washington Post, after allowing the Wall Street Journal, and then the San Diego Union-Tribune, to own it.

The Post’s first big story, by Jo Becker and Charles Babcock, opened on Saturday: “Federal authorities are investigating allegations that a California defense contractor arranged for a Washington area limousine company to provide prostitutes to convicted former congressman Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham (R-Calif.) and possibly other lawmakers, sources familiar with the probe said yesterday.”

Investigators have contacted Washington-area escort services, two hotels and a limousine company in recent weeks, one official said.

Dean Calbreath in the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Saturday that federal prosecutors are reviewing records of two Washington hotels, the Watergate and the Westin.

The allegations were raised by Mitchell Wade, another defense contractor who also has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the bribery conspiracy involving former Rep. Cunningham, the officials said. 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.

Wade is cooperating with investigators as part of his plea agreement in February. He has told them that Brent Wilkes, a San Diego defense contractor who has been identified as a co-conspirator, secured prostitutes, limousines and suites at two Washington hotels–including the Watergate–for Cunningham, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Wilkes, founder of ADCS Inc., has not been charged. Mike Lipman, his attorney, did not return messages left seeking comment. Reginald Brown, Wade’s attorney, declined comment Friday.

One official said agents have been checking out investigative leads, but so far have been unable to confirm that, even if true, the prostitutes were part of the bribery scheme. Investigators have not turned up evidence that other lawmakers were involved, the official said.

The investigation, spawned by reports of the former California congressman’s extravagant lifestyle, is continuing both in Washington and San Diego, the officials said.

Justice Department and FBI spokesmen declined to comment on the investigation.

The wider picture, involving possibly other congressmen involved with prostitutes, emerged Thursday in an appearance by Calbreath of The Union-Tribune on MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough show, in which he suggested that as many as six lawmakers could eventually be named. The Union-Tribune earlier this month won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Cunningham case.

Then Calbreath reported in Friday’s paper: “Federal prosecutors are reviewing records of two Washington, D.C., hotels where Poway defense contractor Brent Wilkes rented suites as part of their investigation into whether prostitutes were involved as he tried to curry favor with lawmakers and CIA officials.” Two sources said “they were present on several occasions when Shirlington Limousine & Transportation Service of northern Virginia brought prostitutes to the suite. They say they did not see lawmakers in the suites on those occasions, though both had heard rumors of congressmen bringing women to the rooms.”

On MSNBC, Calbreath said “the rumor mill is alive with names. The rumor mill is alive with at least half dozen names. Congressman Cunningham in today?s story in the Wall Street Journal that is really the first solid confirmation we have gotten of an eyewitness report.”

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