Cunningham, now 79, was sentenced in 2006 to eight years and four months in prison for his guilty pleas to conspiracy and tax evasion for taking $2.4 million in bribes in return for unduly influencing the awarding of Defense Department contracts. He was released in 2013.
After being incarcerated, Cunningham denied accepting bribes and said he regretted his plea.
The staffs of The San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley News Service shared a Pulitzer prize for national reporting in 2006, thanks to a series of stories that revealed the congressman’s criminality.
Cunningham, a Republican, represented portions of San Diego County in Congress from Jan. 3, 1991-Nov. 28, 2005, when he resigned.
Prior to politics, he flew an F-4 Phantom fighter jet for the U.S Navy during the Vietnam War.
It was Trump’s second pardon of a disgraced San Diego County congressman. A month ago, the president spared Republican Duncan D. Hunter an 11-month prison sentence in Texas that was to have started this month.
The bribes to Cunningham were paid a variety of ways, including checks totaling more than $1 million, cash, rugs, antiques, furniture, yacht club fees, boat repairs, moving costs and vacation expenses.
In return, Cunningham worked to influence the awarding of tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts, said then-U.S. Attorney Carol Lam.
The bribery, fraud and tax evasion conspiracy plea involved:
- The purchase of Cunningham’s home in Del Mar at an artificially inflated price by a defense contractor.
- The subsequent payoff of the mortgage of his new, multimillion- dollar home in Rancho Santa Fe by another defense contractor.
- A $200,000 down-payment by a third co-conspirator to enable Cunningham to purchase a condominium in Arlington, Virginia.
- The payment of the capital gains tax by the purchaser of Cunningham’s Del Mar home.
- The purchase and maintenance by a defense contractor of a yacht, the “Duke-Stir,” and a Rolls Royce for Cunningham.
- And payments by a defense contractor for a graduation party for Cunningham’s daughter, jewelry, home furnishings and travel and hotel expenses.
As a result of the plea bargain, Cunningham agreed to forfeit more than $1.8 million in cash and real property.
The official pardon announcement said:
President Trump granted a conditional pardon to Randall “Duke” Cunningham who was released from prison in 2013. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich strongly supports this pardon. Mr. Cunningham, a former California Congressman, was sentenced to over 8 years’ imprisonment for accepting bribes while he held public office. During his time in prison, Mr. Cunningham tutored other inmates to help them achieve their GED. Mr. Cunningham is a combat veteran, an ace fighter pilot, and a member of the Military Order of Purple Hearts. Although combat-disabled, he continues to serve his community by volunteering with a local fire department and is active in Bible Study.
Trump also granted clemency to former White House aide Steve Bannon as part of a wave of pardons and commutations issued in his final hours in office, but did not pardon himself, members of his family or lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
White House officials had argued to Trump that he should not pardon himself or his family because it might look like they are guilty of crimes, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Bannon, who was a key adviser in Trump’s 2016 presidential run, was charged last year with swindling the president’s own supporters over an effort to raise private funds to build the president’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. He has pleaded not guilty.
“Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen,” the White House said in a statement.
White House officials had advised Trump against pardoning Bannon. The two men have lately rekindled their relationship as Trump sought support for his unproven claims of voter fraud, an official familiar with the situation said.
As part of more than 140 pardons and commutations, Trump also pardoned Elliott Broidy, a former top fundraiser for Trump who pleaded guilty last year to violating foreign lobbying laws, and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was serving a 28-year prison term on corruption charges.
Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black who were prosecuted on federal weapons offenses, were also granted pardons.
Giuliani, who has been at the forefront of Trump’s unsuccessful efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, has not been charged with a crime, but investigators have been probing his activities in Ukraine.
Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House last week on charges of inciting the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by the president’s supporters. He may face a Senate trial and could be barred from running for president again if convicted.
The pardon power, which comes from the U.S. Constitution, is one of the broadest available to a president. While pardons are typically given to people who have been prosecuted, pardons can cover conduct that has not yet resulted in legal proceedings.
A pardon is not reviewable by other branches of government and the president does not have to give a reason for issuing one. But the pardon power is not absolute; it only applies to federal crimes.
Bannon, 67, is the latest prominent political ally to receive clemency from Trump, who has often used the powers of the executive branch to reward loyalists and punish his enemies.
Trump previously pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about his conversation with the former Russian ambassador, and he commuted the prison term for Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress during its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The former executive chairman and co-founder of the right-wing news outlet Breitbart, Bannon is credited as being the architect behind the rise of “America First” right-wing populism. He was a key influencer behind some of Trump’s staunch anti-immigration policies in the early days of Trump’s presidency, as well as the border wall that was one of Trump’s key campaign promises.
He was fired from his post at the White House in August 2017.
Bannon can still be charged with fraud by New York state prosecutors, said Daniel R. Alonso, a former prosecutor now at the Buckley law firm. Fraud prosecutions are frequently brought by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Alonso added.
Broidy, who was a top fundraiser for Trump during the 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty in October to violating lobbying laws by attempting to influence the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.
Lil Wayne, 38, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., pleaded guilty in federal court in December to illegally possessing a firearm and faced up to 10 years in prison. He has expressed support for Trump’s criminal justice reform efforts.
Kodak Black, 23, who was born Bill Kahan Kapri, is in federal prison for making a false statement in order to buy a firearm.
— City News Service and Reuters contributed to this report.