House Ethics Committee Launches Probe into Rep. Henry Cuellar Over Bribery Charges

Jimmy Williams

The House Committee on Ethics announced on Wednesday that it will investigate Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar over federal charges of foreign influence and bribery.

Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss., will lead the probe, with Rep. Glenn F. Ivey, D-Md., serving as the ranking member. Reps. Ben Cline, R-Va., and Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., will also be part of the investigative subcommittee.

The committee aims “to determine whether Representative Cuellar solicited or accepted bribes, gratuities, or improper gifts; acted as a foreign agent; violated federal money laundering laws; misused his official position for private gain; and/or made false statements or omissions on public disclosure statements filed with the House,” according to their statement.

Cuellar has denied the allegations. “I respect the work of the House Ethics Committee,” he said in a statement. “I am innocent of these allegations, and everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas.”

House rules require the Ethics Committee to form an investigative subcommittee within 30 days of a member’s indictment, or report to the House its reasons for not doing so. The committee stated, “The Committee is aware of the risks associated with dual investigations and is in communication with the Department of Justice to mitigate the potential risks while still meeting the Committee’s obligations to safeguard the integrity of the House.”

The Justice Department indicted Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, in late April over two alleged bribery schemes. The indictment, unsealed earlier this month, accuses the Cuellars of accepting approximately $600,000 in bribes between 2014 and 2021 from the government of Azerbaijan and an unnamed foreign bank headquartered in Mexico City.

The bribes were allegedly laundered through sham consulting contracts, involving front companies and middlemen, into shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar. The Justice Department claims that in exchange for the bribes, Cuellar influenced legislative activities and pressured high-ranking U.S. Executive Branch officials in favor of the Mexican bank.

The charges against the Cuellars include five counts of money laundering, two counts of bribery of a federal official, and two counts of violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal.

Following the charges, Cuellar asserted his and his wife’s innocence and reaffirmed his intention to run for reelection this fall. He has represented Texas’ 28th District since 2005. The district, which includes parts of San Antonio and extends to the U.S.-Mexico border, is rated “likely Democratic” by Inside Elections.

Cuellar will face Republican Jay Furman in the upcoming election. Furman, a military veteran, cited the “illegality” of the government’s COVID-19 response and the situation at the Southern border as his motivations for running.

Cuellar, a conservative Democrat and the last House Democrat who opposes abortion rights, has not faced widespread calls to resign from his Democratic colleagues, who are focused on regaining the majority in the next Congress.

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