Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Sometimes I take his calls out of pity."

Convicted Republican felon Randy "Duke" Cunningham's wife, Nancy, tells her story to presidential biographer (sort of) Kitty Kelly in The National Review (registration required).

Throughout our interview, Nancy referred to her husband as "Mr. Cunningham." "It's a mental distancing," she explained. "As far as I'm concerned, he no longer really exists." But, in this frosty dismissal and her constant Victorian references to "Mr. Cunningham," there was a sense of disappointment. "I have to tell you, I once idolized him," she later confessed. "He was the most charismatic person I ever met." In her recollections of their early days together, Duke mesmerized men as well as women. Despite his later lies and betrayals, she can still see him as the dashing young Navy ace. In weak moments when she isn't wishing him dead, she wonders why someone with "all the promise he once had" ever married someone like herself. "I identify with women like Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana," Nancy said. "They, too, had husbands like that."


But, while she acknowledges her husband's volcanic temper and relentless need for ego-gratification, she also criticizes the Republican Party for exploiting him for fund-raising without reward. She deftly wields a shiv as she discusses traveling with the speaker of the House and his wife on a private plane paid for by Wilkes, one of Duke's unindicted co-conspirators. "I usually told my husband to check everything with Ethics, but it never occurred to me there might be something wrong about flying with Speaker Hastert and his wife. How can it be illegal or unethical if the most important man in Congress does it?" Nancy claimed she went on only one congressional junket--to the Paris Air Show in 2001, an experience she was quick to dismiss. "They are nothing more than fancy vacations for congressional representatives, their families, and staffers to fly in luxury and shop at PX's on military bases and see castles and museums," she said.


But the real tragedy for Duke Cunningham is that, by the time he arrived in Washington, the prestige and glamour that he imagined he would find there were long gone. The people who had the lifestyle he fantasized about weren't politicians; they were lobbyists. And Duke, the war-hero who felt he had earned a place in the pantheon of Kennedys and Bushes, felt cheated.

Imagine that, you're a member of the United States Congress. People do your bidding, women throw themselves at you, lobbyists hand you envelopes stuffed with cash. Oh, and you take an oath to do your job and swear it before God.

For Randy "Duke" Cunningham neither the respect and adulation nor the oath were enough to overcome his greed and selfishness.