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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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House Ethics to investigate Representative Henry Cuellar

The Justice Department has charged the Democratic lawmaker with accepting bribes from an Azerbaijani oil company and a Mexican bank.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House Committee on Ethics announced Wednesday that it would open an investigation into Texas Representative Henry Cuellar, weeks after he was indicted by the Department of Justice on bribery and money laundering charges.

In a statement, panel chair Representative Michael Guest and ranking member Representative Glenn Ivey said that members had voted unanimously to open a probe into Cuellar, who was charged earlier this month with accepting bribes from an Azerbaijani oil company and a Mexican bank.

An investigative subcommittee will “determine whether Representative Cuellar solicited or accepted bribes, gratuities, or improper gifts” or acted as an agent of a foreign government, the lawmakers said. The group will also look into whether the Texas Democrat misused his official position for private gain or made false statements on public disclosure statements required by the House.

Guest and Ivey will lead the four-member investigative subcommittee. Virginia Representative Ben Cline, a Republican, and Pennsylvania Representative Madeliene Dean, a Democrat, will be the panel’s other two members.

In a May 3 indictment, the Justice Department said that Cuellar reportedly took a total of roughly $600,000 in bribes from Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company as well as a bank headquartered in Mexico City. The department says the Texas lawmaker agreed to influence congressional policy towards Azerbaijan and advocate against the use of stricter money laundering enforcement practices which threatened the Mexican bank’s business interests.

Cuellar and his wife Imelda also purportedly laundered the bribes through consulting contracts, the Justice Department said.

The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday that it was aware of the risks associated with opening its own investigation while the federal probe was still ongoing. The panel is communicating with the Department of Justice "to mitigate the potential risks while still meeting the Committee’s obligations to safeguard the integrity of the House.”

Cuellar, who was reelected in 2022 to represent Texas’s 28th Congressional District, has maintained his innocence and said that he plans to run for reelection in spite of the charges against him.

“Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas,” he said in a statement following the May 3 indictment.

Cuellar has stepped down as ranking member of the House Committee on Appropriations’ homeland security subpanel amid the Justice Department’s investigation.

House Democrats, meanwhile, have been reticent to suggest that the charges against the Texas lawmaker mean he should resign from Congress.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has said that Cuellar is entitled to the presumption of innocence and should get his day in court, adding that the embattled congressman “has admirably devoted his career to public service and is a valued member of the House Democratic Caucus.”

California Representative Pete Aguilar, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, agreed, telling reporters earlier this month that it was the “overwhelming feeling of House Democrats” that Cuellar should be innocent until proven guilty.

Aguilar also sought to distance the charges against Cuellar from similar federal indictments levied against New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and former New York Representative George Santos. Menendez, who is in his third week of trial for his charges, has faced calls to resign from the upper chamber. Santos was expelled from Congress earlier this year.

But Cuellar “has been for decades a legislator in Texas,” Aguilar contended, arguing that his longstanding relationships with lawmakers and career record set him apart from the “silliness” of disgraced members of Congress such as Santos.

Aguilar also suggested that the substance of the claims against Cuellar and those against Menendez, who also reportedly acted as an agent of a foreign government, were different. The California lawmaker did not expand on those differences, saying instead that Cuellar, Menendez and Santos were all entitled to the presumption of innocence.

The FBI raided Cuellar’s Laredo, Texas, home in 2022, in the middle of a contentious primary battle with progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros. Despite that, Cuellar managed to narrowly defeat Cisneros, securing the support of top House Democrats such as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

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