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Rep. Cunningham won't seek re-election amid contractor probe



San Diego (California)
Government Contracts

(CNN) -- Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-California, under federal investigation over his relationship with a defense contractor, announced Thursday that he won't seek a ninth term in Congress next year but will finish the remainder of his current term.

While insisting he did nothing illegal or dishonorable, the former top gun Navy pilot admitted he showed "poor judgment" in 2003 when he sold his home in Del Mar, California, to a friend, Mitchell Wade, the founder of MZM Inc., a large defense contractor.

Cunningham sits on a powerful defense appropriations subcommittee that approves spending for defense programs and has said he advocated on MZM's behalf in seeking government contracts.

"I should have given more thought to how such transactions might look to those who don't know me," Cunningham said at a news conference in San Marcos, in his San Diego-area district. "It pains me beyond words that I have jeopardized your trust."

The private sale raised eyebrows when Wade resold the home a short time later and took a $700,000 loss. A federal grand jury in San Diego is investigating.

Cunningham said while he continues to believe he received a "reasonable price" for the Del Mar home, he and his wife will sell their current home, where they had planned to retire, and donate part of the proceeds to charity to demonstrate to their friends and supporters "that I did nothing wrong."

The congressman said he decided not to run for re-election because of the toll the investigation has taken on his family and standing in the community. He also said he doesn't believe he can fulfill his congressional duties and fight the allegations against him while also running a political campaign.

Cunningham, a decorated Vietnam veteran, also conceded that amid the controversy about his relationship with Wade, "I may not be the strongest candidate."

"I learned in Vietnam that no person is more important than the mission, and I do not intend to forget that lesson now," he said.

Two weeks ago, federal agents raided Cunningham's California home, a boat he lives on while in Washington and MZM's Washington offices.

A government official told CNN that the searches were part of an ongoing investigation conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's offices in San Diego and Washington, the Defense Criminal Investigation Service and the IRS.

Cunningham's attorney, Lee Blalack, blasted the searches as an "appalling abuse of government power," insisting that the congressman was fully cooperating with a subpoena for documents issued as part of the investigation.

In the wake of the allegations about his relationship with Cunningham, Wade recently quit his position at MZM.

Cunningham has been under increased pressure from Republican lawmakers and party officials to step down. A Democratic leadership aide said Cunningham should resign now and not wait until next year to give up his seat.

"The reality is there is still a Justice Department investigation. The reality is there are still rules and laws that were possibly broken," the aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Making a decision about the future does not change his past action."

But Cunningham said he expects that when the investigation concludes, he will be fully vindicated from the "false" charges.

The 63-year-old congressman was first elected in 1990. He represents the 50th District, which includes parts of San Diego and its northern suburbs. The district is solidly Republican.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry and Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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