Controversy is swirling around Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX) after records revealed that he and members of his staff embarked on numerous sponsored trips to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, and federal investigators paid visits to the congressman’s home as well as his office, as Fox News reports.
According to documents secured by the outlet, Cuellar, together with his wife, traveled to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 2013 courtesy of the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, a trip that involved a stay in high-end accommodations and cost roughly $25,000.
The Turquoise Council’s self-described mission is to foster interactions between American, Turkish, Turkic and Eurasian individuals by bringing “people together by hosting public programs and private events featuring leaders and experts with diverse views on a wide range of global and regional topics through task forces, executive forums, luncheons, conferences, studies and leadership dialogue.”
Though that particular trip received the House Ethics Committee’s stamp of approval, and the organization’s president, Kemal Oksuz, declared that no foreign money went toward paying the Cuellars’ expenses, the same man pleaded guilty a few years later to failing to disclose the use of foreign money to fund another congressional jaunt that did not include Cuellar, according to Fox News.
Another member of Cuellar’s staff subsequently traveled to Azerbaijan, was put up in luxury lodgings, and held meetings with oil company officials to discuss new pipelines and gather information for Cuellar regarding “foreign aid needs and requests,” in a trip also paid for by the Council.
Cuellar ultimately served as the co-sponsor of a congressional resolution supporting a gas corridor endeavor in Azerbaijan in late 2013, declaring the project to be in America’s “national interest.”
These revelations come amid news that Cuellar’s Texas residence and campaign office were raided by the FBI last week as part of a broader probe into links between Azerbaijanian officials and a number of American business people, as the New York Post noted.
It was subsequently reported that the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Unit is part of the investigation and that Cuellar, his wife, and a staffer have received subpoenas “relating to anything of value” in connection with the congressman’s dealings with specific foreign dignitaries and business leaders and any “work, act, favor, or service” he may have offered to individuals and entities abroad.
Cuellar has indicated that he plans to “fully cooperate” with any and all investigations, according to the Post, and a statement from his office declared his commitment to “ensuring that justice and the law are upheld.”