Tags: Azbaijani | ethics | trip | lawmakers

Lawmakers Deny Ethics Lapses in Azerbaijani Trip

Image: Lawmakers Deny Ethics Lapses in Azerbaijani Trip
Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., Ted Poe, R-Tex., Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex. (Handout/bridenstine.house.gov; Mark Wilson/Getty Images; John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images; Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:17 PM

House lawmakers who participated in a trip in 2013 that was secretly funded by the Azerbaijani government have denied any wrongdoing, saying that the travel was pre-approved by the Ethics Committee, The Hill reported.

Republican Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma and Ted Poe of Texas as well as Democratic Reps. Gregory Meeks of New York and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas have all released separate statements defending their participation in the trip.

"The House Committee on Ethics approved my travel request in writing prior to the trip, as is required for all House Members' travel," Bridenstine said in a statement, according to The Hill.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) paid for airfare and gifts for 10 lawmakers and 32 congressional aides totaling more than $125,000. The gifts included crystal tea sets, silk scarves, and Azerbaijani rugs ranging in value from $2,500 to $10,000.

The Post had obtained a 70-page ethics report that said that the costs of the trip had been hidden through Texas-based nonprofits, which falsely claimed they were paying for the trip.

The congressional delegation was attending a conference on improving U.S.-Azerbaijan relations. It was at a time when energy companies were attempting to secure clearance for a pipeline that would need to be exempt from U.S. sanctions affecting an Iranian business partner, the National Iranian Oil Company.

Bridenstine said he made "good faith efforts" to comply with House ethics gift rules following the trip, disclosing two of the rugs he received in financial reports.

"Having sought advice from the Committee on Ethics, I determined the best course of action was to return the rugs and I did so," he said, according to The Hill.

SOCAR released a statement Wednesday saying it had "cooperated fully" with the law, The Hill said.

"We are therefore disappointed that the compliance procedures may not have been followed correctly by the trip's sponsors and we are unclear why these disclosures were omitted," the company said in a statement.

The company acknowledged that it was involved in funding the conference along with other sponsors, but took issue with "the Washington Post's characterization… that SOCAR secretly played a role in the May 2013 conference in Baku."

"SOCAR will happily work to address this situation, and looks forward to sponsoring future events to introduce policymakers to the issues concerning this critical region," the company said, according to The Hill.

The other lawmakers who participated in the trip to Azerbaijan were New York Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke, Illinois Democratic Rep. Danny Davis, Texas Democratic Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, New Jersey Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, New Mexico Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and then-Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, the Post reported.

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House lawmakers who participated in a trip in 2013 that was secretly funded by the Azerbaijani government have denied any wrongdoing, saying that the travel was pre-approved by the Ethics Committee, The Hill reported.
Azbaijani, ethics, trip, lawmakers
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2015-17-14
Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:17 PM
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