CHUTZPAH WATCH…. A few years ago, when the “culture of corruption” became practically all-encompassing for congressional Republicans, Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s criminal wrongdoing stood out for its outrageousness.

The bribes Cunningham accepted were almost cartoonish — defense contractors wanted the right-wing Californian to give them a bunch of lucrative contracts, and in exchange, the contractors gave Cunningham $2.4 million in bribes, including a Rolls-Royce, a yacht, and a 19th-century Louis-Philippe commode.

When Cunningham resigned in disgrace and went to prison, he confessed and gave the appearance of remorse. “Your honor I have ripped my life to shreds due to my actions, my actions that I did to myself,” he told the judge at his sentencing, after pleading guilty. “I made a very wrong turn. I rationalized decisions I knew were wrong. I did that, sir.”

That was in 2005. Now, however, Cunningham claims there’s been a misunderstanding.

Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, currently in prison for charges stemming from the bribes he confessed to accepting while in office, is presenting a new narrative to those who’ve been following his spiral into disgrace. Turns out, Cunningham now says, he wasn’t bribed at all. At least not as much.

One of the men convicted of bribing Cunningham, former defense contractor Brent Wilkes, is attempting to reopen his case on the grounds that Cunningham now says the hundreds of thousands in money and stuff Wilkes was convicted of giving him was, in fact, not a bribe at all. In a pair of “declarations” Cunningham made in the past few weeks, the San Diego Union Tribune reports that former Republican congressman said the payments were just “gifts between longtime friends.”

The shamelessness is amazing.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.