Former Rep. Charlie Wilson Dead at 76

First John Murtha. Now former Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson has died at 76.

The ethically-challenged Wilson was made famous by the excellent book by the late George Crile (and the movie) Charlie Wilson’s War, which revealed how he secretly supplied the funds for the CIA’s covert war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

He appears a couple of times in my book, Feasting on the Spoils, most memorably in a a scene at a poker game at the Watergate Hotel. The Watergate was a home away from home for San Diego defense contractor Brent Wilkes and his CIA buddy, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo.

Wilkes and Foggo continued their long-standing tradition of weekly card games in Washington. Foggo would invite along friends from the CIA, and Wilkes would bring the congressmen. One of the congressional guests was Charlie Wilson, who had in 1993 received the CIA’s Honored Colleague Award, the first time it was ever awarded to anyone outside the agency. At one game, Wilson invited along his friend from Texas Joe Murray, a columnist for The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Murray met Wilson in the hotel lobby. “I’m not sure how they chose the Watergate,” Murray wrote in a May 20, 1994 column, a few days after the poker game. “Perhaps because a sense of history. Either that or a sense of humor.”Murray followed Wilson into the suite, which was filled with cigar smoke. Wilson knew a few of the CIA personnel at the game. One was Brant Bassett, a well-regarded officer who spoke fluent Russian, German, and Hungarian. Bassett was known as Nine Fingers after a motorcycle accident had cost him a finger. Wilson brought gifts, a sack full of guns that included a Soviet automatic used by Russian paratroopers. Wilson had a special pen for everyone, one that with a click fired a .32-caliber bullet. Everyone in the room started clicking his pen.

“Boy, I wish I’d had it this afternoon,” someone said.

“If only Aldrich Ames were here.”

Murray and Wilson stayed only a short while, and as they were leaving, one of the agents offered Murry one of his cigars, a Dominican. Murray offered the agent one of his, a Cuban. The agent told him, “You know, of course, this is considered contraband. But you’ve done the right thing as a good citizen. You’ve turned it in to the proper authorities. Be assured that very shortly it will be destroyed by fire.”

Wilson insisted there was no hanky-panky the night he was there. “The only activities that took place there that would be considered illegal and unlawful was cigar smoking on a nonsmoking floor,” Wilson said. Cunningham was the only other congressman who ever attended the poker games, according to Wilkes.

The “hanky-panky” Wilson is referring to were the rumors that flew around Washington that congressmen were supplied with prostitutes at these games. The FBI never found any evidence of this (the government certainly would have used it against Wilkes if they had) but people still think it’s what happened anyway.

After my book came out, Wilkes’ nephew and right-hand man, Joel Combs, testified that Wilkes told his employees to lose to Duke at poker and he yelled at one man who wasn’t losing enough.

Wilkes was sentenced to 12 years for bribing Cunningham; Foggo is serving time in prison for steering CIA contracts to Wilkes.

As for Charlie Wilson, he didn’t remember Wilkes; Foggo, however, he remembered well when I interviewed him in 2006.

When I told Wilson that Foggo had a rather unsavory reputation, Wilson said that the CIA sometimes had need of people like that in the CIA to do the dirty work against the KGB. (Foggo was no James Bond, however; he was a logistics officer.)

Ah, well, I’m sorry Charlie is gone. He made Congress fun.

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