He resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to graft and now faces a long prison term.
To a biography that notes he was the first fighter ace of the Vietnam War, the top instructor at the Top Gun school, and the recipient of two Silver Stars and 15 air medals, the California congressman must now add admitted felon as well.
"The truth is, I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions and most importantly, the trust of my friends and my family,"
In a stunning admission, Cunningham, 63, pled guilty to receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes that included over a million dollars in cash, antique Persian rugs, furniture, use of a yacht, club fees, a Rolls Royce and vacation expenses in exchange for steering defense contracts to two conspirators.
Read the charges against Rep. Randy Cunningham and the plea agreement.
Cunningham now loses it all, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart, including his $2.5 million estate in Rancho Santa Fe, not to mention use of the 42-foot motor yacht he called home while working in Washington. The true owner was a defense contractor he befriended, but the name on the boat was the "Duke-stir."
The aging veteran at least pulled no punches in his confession.
"In my life, I have had great joy and great sorrow," he said. "And now I know great shame. I can't undo what I've done, but I can atone."
That atonement started immediately. Cunningham was led away from his press conference for fingerprinting.
But Cunningham, who could get up to 10 years in prison at sentencing Feb. 27 on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud, and tax evasion, may not be the only person ensnared in the case. Prosecutors have indicated they have more than him in mind.
"There's more work to be done," Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern said Monday. Cunningham has promised to cooperate.
But CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen says Cunningham shouldn't expect the court to go easy on him.
"The problem for Cunningham at sentencing is that he can't really argue that his many years of public service warrant leniency since the charges against him, and what he pleaded guilty to, go to the very core of the quality and integrity of that service. He's in a no-win situation at sentencing and he probably knows it," Cohen said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office will have 14 days to set a date for an election to replace Cunningham. The election must be held within 120 days after that. The district, just north of San Diego, is heavily Republican.
The case began when authorities started investigating Cunningham's sale of his Del Mar house to defense contractor Mitchell Wade for $1,675,000. Wade sold the house nearly a year later for $975,000 — a loss of $700,000 in a hot real estate market.
The congressman already had announced in July — after the investigation became public — that he would not seek re-election next year. But until he entered his plea, he insisted he had done nothing wrong.