After the FBI assault At Representative Henry Cuellar’s home and campaign office on Wednesday, the big and unanswered question was a simple one: Why?
A source familiar with the investigation said ABC that it was linked to an extensive investigation into Azerbaijan and a group of American businessmen, but details of any wrongdoing remain scant. However, Cuellar’s ties to Azerbaijan were extensive.
And notably, there was a government trip to Azerbaijan in 2013, as Interceptor was first reported on Friday night, which led to a campaign sponsor having to plead guilty to lying to Congress five years later.
While Cuellar was not on that particular trip, one of his employees was involved. And just four months earlier, Cueller and his wife, Imelda, had set out for Turkey and Azerbaijan to see sights, meet top leaders, and promote economic and geopolitical cooperation between the two countries and the United States, according to congressional disclosure.
While in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, they met with the president of the country and after lunch they went to the State Petroleum Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan for a briefing. Then it was to parliament to meet with other dignitaries.
The Tab for Nine Days of Fun—$26,145.26—was chosen by the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, a Houston-based nonprofit that aims to facilitate this cultural exchange. and approved by the Congressional Ethics Committee, according to public records.
After the trip, the head of that organization, a US citizen named Kemal Oksuz, helped finance a second trip four months later. Cuellar was not on that second trip, but a larger delegation — 10 congressional colleagues — was present. Instead, Cuellar meet the Azerbaijani ambassador in DC, according to a press release from his office.
Two years later, Oksuz contributed $2,000 to the Cuellar campaign, Federal Election Commission file recital. Before that, he donated $1,500, six months before Cuellar’s trip.
But that second trip resulted in a criminal indictment against Oksuz. It turned out that his team did not pay, but received the money – $750,000 – from the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan, a government-owned organization.
He then lied to the House Ethics Committee to cover up the truth, and in 2018 Oksuz pleaded guilty to federal charges of those lies. Ethics Committee later deleted members took a second trip about any wrongdoing, saying the lawmakers acted “in good faith” and that the Ethics Committee never conclude establish real funding for the trip.
But Cuellar’s trip seems to have left an impression. A month later, he went upstairs and praised Azerbaijan—especially interested in excitement the country’s oil industry.
“This is what the Azeris have in common with the Texans: they are a rich oil-producing nation,” Cuellar said. “As we do in Texas, Azeris has a long history with oil. Today, they provide pipelines that transport oil from the Caspian to the west, through Turkey, without going through Russia or Iran. That greatly increases the security of the pipeline.”
In his 2013 exchange speech, Cuellar also noted that “Azeris has an exciting way to invest their oil profits for future generations,” noting infrastructure projects and “learning scholarships abroad”.
Cuellar, oddly enough, has continued to be interested in academic exchange programs between the United States and Azerbaijan — and partnered with Oksuz to make it happen. In 2015, Cuellar announced an exchange partnership between Texas A&M and one of the organizations Oksuz used to forge funds from SOCAR, the government-owned oil company.
Cuellar was interested in Azerbaijan. He is the co-chair of the Azerbaijan Caucus, and has given a strong voice to the national security, economic and cultural interests of the country. He signed a letter most recently last April lobbied for aid to the country after a deadly conflict with neighboring Armenia; The letter was distributed by a lobbyist at the company DC BGR.
For the above “foreign scholarships”, Cuellar also regularlyjoined Azerbaijani ambassador at educational functions, including at a local university in San Antonio. And just last year, the president of tiny Laredo college, in Cuellar’s hometown, boasted in an open letter that he met “many international dignitaries” on a recent trip to Azerbaijan.
“He has been selected and funded by the Azerbaijani government to obtain an energy certification,” the letter read, adding that the “progressive initiatives for which the LC is known” will “advance our plans.” about an incredible energy program that benefits our students.” The school’s principal is pictured with the Mexican Ambassador to Azerbaijan, along with the vice president of SOCAR.
Perhaps even closer to home, Cuellar also scored an exchange semester in Azerbaijan for one of his 2020 trainees.
Another Cuellar intern: Son of Kemal Oksuz.
Cuellar’s congressional office did not return a request for comment.