The scandal around the sensational and suspicious congressional visits to Azerbaijan takes new turn in the U.S. Congress. CNN reported that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Republican Party member, announced his resignation and said he intended to leave Congress at the end of October.
The Azerbaijani website Haqqin.az claims that one of the reasons John Boehner resigned is an Azerbaijan visit of a group of congressional representatives in May 2013, which was sponsored by SOCAR (the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan).
Haqqin.az notes that the U.S. Congress regulations demand the parliamentarians to agree on such trips at the Office of Congressional Ethics. The scandal around the congressional trip to Azerbaijan burst out long ago. However, it has not calmed down yet, taking new turn with the Ethics Committee saying it found no violations in the American legislators’ Baku trip in 2013. The website reports about a possible reinvestigation of the congressional representatives’ Azerbaijan trip after Boehner’s resignation.
The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) published an article by Peter Flaherty, who claims John Boehner’s Speakership was a setback for Congressional ethics. “He backslid on a number of important reforms, and helped to return the Ethics Committee to its traditional role of covering up wrongdoing by incumbent members of Congress,” Flaherty writes.
He points out that Boehner ally Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), the Chairman of the Ethics Committee, is currently orchestrating a whitewash of apparent House rules violations related to a junket by ten House members to Azerbaijan in 2013. Flaherty highlights that Azerbaijan is “one of the most corrupt governments on earth.”
On July 31, the Ethics Committee announced that it had found “no evidence” that the ten broke House rules. It plans “no further action regarding this matter and considers it closed.” For ethics groups, however, the matter is far from closed. In fact, both liberal and conservative groups, along with reform advocates like Norm Ornstein, are demanding the Committee release a report on the trip compiled by a separate entity, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
According to the OCE report, the junket was sponsored by nonprofit groups, but was actually paid for by SOCAR. “We believe that the report will confirm that the Committee covered up obvious violations of House rules,” NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm asserted.
“It is no mystery what SOCAR wanted from Congress. A partner with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) in the huge Shah Deniz gas field, it successfully sought an exemption from Iran sanctions,” Flaherty points.
The OCE report was referred to the Ethics Committee, but has not been made public. It was leaked to the Washington Post, which described its contents on May 13. The report alleges ten House members broke House Rules when they took the 2013 trip to a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, courtesy of SOCAR. Also enjoying free trips were 32 staff members. Some House members offered the defense that they did not know SOCAR underwrote the trip, but the OCE investigators detailed how conference meeting rooms were festooned with banners with SOCAR’s logo, the author writes.
OCE apparently acted in response to a July 2014 story in the Houston Chronicle describing the trip. In addition to SOCAR, BP, ConocoPhillips and KBR also helped to pay the costs of the event, estimated at $1.5 million. Those costs included $100,000 for hotels, $75,000 for food and entertainment, and $1.2 million for travel and other expenses. NLPC provided significant background information for the Chronicle story, which described how nonprofit organizations were apparently used as fronts to launder the prohibited corporate funding.
Flaherty stresses that when sponsoring Congressional travel, nonprofit leaders must certify under oath that they have not received money from corporations that lobby Congress. Unlike House rules violations, lying under oath is criminal.
“Given the reformist bent and energy of many Tea Party-supported Republicans whose election made Boehner’s Speakership possible, it’s sadly ironic that Boehner preferred the old ways of doing business,” the author concludes.
The New York Times: Congressmen traveled to Baku with freebies
The Washington Post: State Oil Company of Azerbaijan secretly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on US Congressmen
ANCA insists on release of report on SOCAR’s funding of US Congressmen’s trip to Azerbaijan
Rights groups demand Ethics Committee not to hide findings on U.S. Congressmen’s Baku trip