MERCEDES, RGV – Congressman Rubén Hinojosa has responded to an exclusive story in the Washington Post today that says he went on an all-expenses-paid trip to a conference at Baku on the Caspian Sea that was secretly funded by the state-owned oil company of Azerbaijan.
The Post reported State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, known as SOCAR, paid for a trip that comprised ten members of Congress, 32 staff members and three top former aides to President Obama.
The Post’s story is based on a confidential 70-page report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative arm of the U.S. House. The report says SOCAR allegedly funneled $750,000 through nonprofit corporations based in the United States to conceal the source of the funding for the conference in the former Soviet nation.
The Post said lawmakers and their staff members received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according to an ethics report. Airfare for the lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, travel invoices show.
Here is Hinojosa’s response:
“Prior to the trip to Azerbaijan and Turkey, I sought approval from the U.S. House Committee on Ethics to travel. On May 23, 2013, the Committee approved travel for my spouse and I to visit Azerbaijan and Turkey. I relied upon this written authorization in deciding to travel overseas. I believed the purpose of the trip was to strengthen U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. I received souvenirs of what I believed to be of minimal value and in compliance with the House Gift rule.
“Almost a year after the trip, I learned that an investigation was being conducted into the funding source of this trip. My staff and I have fully cooperated with the investigation. Importantly, the report notes that there is no evidence to suggest that Members of Congress who went on the trip knew that impermissible sponsors and organizers may have been involved and that Members relied on the sponsors’ representations in good faith. I look forward to this issue being resolved in an expeditious manner and I thank the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Committee on Ethics for their professionalism.”
Of the ten members of Congress that went on the trip, four were from Texas. The ten were: Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., Rubén Hinojosa, D-Tex., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., Leonard Lance, R-N.J., Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., Ted Poe, R-Tex., and then-Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Tex.
To read the Washington Post story, click here.
Editor’s Note: The montage of the ten members of Congress on display at the top of this story is courtesy of the Washington Post. The other image is of the City of Baku at night.