Trump Pardons Vietnam Ace, TOPGUN Navy Legend Who Took Bribes

Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham at TOPGUN, 1992.
Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham at TOPGUN, 1992. (Wikimedia Commons/Wangtopgun)

Former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham, a Navy "TOPGUN" legend and ace fighter pilot in Vietnam who pleaded guilty to taking bribes from defense contractors, was among the 73 who received a pardon Tuesday night from President Donald Trump.

The 79-year-old Cunningham, who represented California as a Republican and now lives in Arkansas, was released from prison in 2013. He served seven years for taking bribes while in office to fund an extravagant lifestyle including yachts, Persian rugs, hunting trips, a Rolls-Royce and a $2.55 million home, according to the charges against him.

The White House statement said that Cunningham was granted a conditional pardon, usually meaning that it is contingent on continued good behavior.

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The statement noted that Cunningham was "a combat veteran, an ace fighter pilot, and a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart."

He tutored other prisoners to get their GEDs, and "he continues to serve his community by volunteering with a local fire department and is active in Bible study," it added.

In Vietnam, Cunningham and his Navigator/Radar Intercept Officer William Driscoll, flying an F-4 Phantom from the aircraft carrier Constellation, recorded five victories against North Vietnamese MiG-21 and MiG-17 aircraft between January and May 1972. Both received the Navy Cross.

Cunningham later served as an instructor at the Navy's Fighter Weapons School, better known as TOPGUN, at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. He left the Navy as a commander in 1987.

Trump issued a total of 73 pardons and 70 sentence commutations Tuesday in one of his last acts as president.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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