10 US lawmakers took outing personally paid for by unfamiliar firm

May 14, 2015 - storage organizer

WASHINGTON The state-owned oil association of Azerbaijan personally saved an all-expenses-paid outing to a discussion in Baku, on a Caspian Sea, in 2013 for 10 members of Congress and 32 staff members, according to a trusted ethics news performed by The Washington Post. Three former tip aides to President Obama seemed as speakers during a event.

Lawmakers and their staff members perceived hundreds of thousands of dollars’ value of ride expenses, silk scarves, clear tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued during $2,500 to $10,000, according to a ethics report. Airfare for a lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, ride invoices show.

The State Oil Company of a Azerbaijan Republic, famous as SOCAR, allegedly funneled $750,000 by nonprofit companies formed in a United States to disguise a source of a appropriation for a discussion in a former Soviet republic, according to a 70-page news by a Office of Congressional Ethics, an eccentric inquisitive arm of a House.

The news reflects a many endless hearing undertaken by a ethics office, that was combined 7 years ago in response to a series of scandals on Capitol Hill, including lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s bootleg appropriation of lawmakers’ trips.

The lawmakers who took a outing were Reps. 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.) and Ted Poe (R-Tex.) and then-Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.).

Clarke is a member of a Ethics Committee.

Another lawmaker, Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), attended as partial of a apart congressional commission and his losses were not paid by a conference, according to a report.

“My central revisit was partial of my House Armed Services and NATO responsibilities,” Turner told The Post in a statement. “The discussion did not compensate my losses and we did not accept any gifts.”

Davis told The Post that a Ethics Committee authorized a trip, that he took with his wife, and that he didn’t comprehend it had been saved by SOCAR. He pronounced he saw a oil company’s logos in Baku, though “to be really honest about it, we didn’t compensate them many attention, honestly.”

He also pronounced that during a discussion he perceived one rug, that was delivered to his hotel room and is in storage in his groundwork in Chicago. He pronounced he is deliberation donating a runner to a museum or a charity.

The nonprofit companies allegedly filed fake statements with Congress irreverence that they were sponsoring a conference. The commentary have been referred to a House Ethics Committee for hearing of probable violations of congressional manners and sovereign laws that bar unfamiliar governments from perplexing to change U.S. policy.

SOCAR expelled a matter observant that a support of a discussion was no tip and blaming a nonprofits for not filing a correct disclosures.

“At no time did SOCAR censor from a attendees of a discussion a involvement,” a matter said. “SOCAR has never been underneath hearing in this matter since a shortcoming for disclosing SOCAR’s financial support for a discussion fell to those who were a trip’s sponsors.

“We have cooperated fully. We are therefore unhappy that a correspondence procedures might not have been followed rightly by a trip’s sponsors and we are misleading since these disclosures were omitted.”

Tom Rust, arch warn and staff executive for a Ethics Committee, and Kelly Brewington, a mouthpiece for a Office of Congressional Ethics, declined to comment.

The conference, patrician “U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention: Vision for a Future,” took place on May 28 and 29, 2013. During a before year, SOCAR and several vast appetite companies sought exemptions for a $28 billion healthy gas tube plan in a Caspian Sea from U.S. mercantile sanctions being imposed on Iran.

The congressional investigators could not establish either lawmakers used their central positions to advantage SOCAR or a tube project. They also found no justification that a lawmakers or their staff members knew that a discussion was being saved by a unfamiliar government.

The investigators remarkable that a lawmakers relied on representations done to them by dual Houston-based nonprofit corporations, a Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE) and a Assembly of a Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ). The lawmakers told investigators that they had performed capitulation for a outing from a Ethics Committee.

The news pronounced members of a ethics row wrote to a Office of Congressional Ethics requesting a hindrance to a hearing so that a matter could be taken adult by their possess committee. OCE officials declined a request. A supervision central who spoke on a condition of anonymity since of a attraction of a matter pronounced OCE feared that a ethics panel, that has a repute among watchdog groups for helmet lawmakers from annoying disclosures, would not take any suggestive action.

The tube has prolonged been an critical U.S. process design since it would accelerate European confidence by charity an choice to Russian gas.

One of SOCAR’s partners was a National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), a attribute that had threatened to skip a understanding if sanctions were authorized though an grant for a Shah Deniz Natural Gas Project. SOCAR and NIOC were partners with 10 percent of a plan each, while BP and Norwegian-based Statoil any hold 25.5 percent. Russian-based Lukoil also had a 10 percent share, and Turkish Petroleum Corp. had 9 percent.

Congress had authorized dual sanctions bills containing passages that exempted a project, that Obama sealed into law in Aug 2012 and Jan 2013. On Jun 3, 2013, 5 days after a Baku conference, Obama sealed an executive sequence assessing mercantile sanctions opposite Iran that also exempted a project.

The Post reported about a outing during a time, in an essay observant that 3 former Obama domestic advisers — Robert Gibbs, Jim Messina and David Plouffe — spoke during a conference, that was attended by stream and former members of Congress. Politico also wrote about a trip, and a Houston Chronicle reported that SOCAR had been a unite of a discussion and lifted questions about a nonprofits involved. Only one Western news classification lonesome a event, a Washington Diplomat, a monthly that writes about a tactful village in a nation’s capital.

But no information flush during a time about a supposed $750,000 remuneration from SOCAR to a nonprofits. Ethics investigators performed a handle send display that SOCAR sent a $750,000 to AFAZ. SOCAR’s authorised warn told a investigators that a income was “dues” that were “intended to be used as appropriation for a Convention.”

Davis also pronounced lawmakers should ask some-more questions about a source of appropriation for travel.

“Some of these things that we take infrequently for postulated substantially need a bit some-more hearing or some-more prudence,” he said. “So maybe we’ll practice a bit some-more scrutiny. we will.”

Hinojosa, who attended a discussion with his wife, pronounced he was also unknowingly of SOCAR’s involvement.

“Prior to a outing to Azerbaijan and Turkey, we sought capitulation from a U.S. House Committee on Ethics to travel,” he pronounced in a statement. “I believed a purpose of a outing was to strengthen U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. we perceived souvenirs of what we believed to be of minimal value and in correspondence with a House Gift rule.”

The matter added: “Importantly, a news records that there is no justification to advise that Members of Congress who went on a outing knew that impermissible sponsors and organizers might have been concerned and that Members relied on a sponsors’ representations in good faith.”

Ladan Ahmadi, a mouthpiece for Meeks, pronounced in a matter that a congressman “had no reason to trust that a outing was in any approach inappropriate. He supposed a runner to be a slight pleasantness gift.”

Glenn Rushing, a arch of staff for Jackson Lee, pronounced in a statement: “Congresswoman Jackson Lee submitted to a House Ethics Committee all of a information accessible to her per sponsorship of this ride and perceived allege capitulation for this trip, in writing, from a House Ethics Committee, entirely in suitability with House Ethics Rules. The congresswoman done this outing usually since of a capitulation by a House Ethics Committee.”

Lance declined to comment, citing a ongoing ethics investigation. A comparison staff member who spoke on a condition of anonymity pronounced that a congressman was unknowingly SOCAR had sponsored a eventuality and that he had returned a one runner he perceived after he got behind to Washington. The staff member also pronounced Lance perceived a span of earrings and reimbursed a nonprofit organisation that helped classify a discussion $100 immediately on returning to New Jersey.

Clarke and Stockman did not respond to requests for comment.

Although lawmakers told investigators that they were unknowingly that a Azerbaijani supervision had underwritten a outing by a oil company, investigators remarkable that SOCAR orderly many of a discussion in plain sight. The oil association released invitations, sponsored visa entries for a lawmakers and staff members, and hung banners and placards emblazoned with SOCAR’s trademark via a discussion halls in Baku.

The investigators resolved in their news that “a person’s stupidity of a loyal source of ride losses is not an comprehensive defense from guilt for receipt of ride losses from an crude source.”

Several members of a House Foreign Affairs Committee, that has slip of U.S. family with Iran and a mercantile sanctions, attended a conference. They enclosed one of a panel’s many successful members, Poe, who chairs a subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade.

The news pronounced Poe was among those who did not entirely concur with a Office of Congressional Ethics or did not acknowledge receipt of their ask for information.

In a matter to The Post, Shaylyn Hynes, Poe’s mouthpiece said, “Congressman Poe did cooperate,” providing investigators with papers and answers to their questions.

“The House Committee on Ethics afterwards requested that a OCE stop a hearing since it was conducting a possess investigation,” Hynes’s matter said. “As a result, we alerted OCE that we were communicating and auxiliary directly with a House Committee on Ethics, a central judge of House ethics matters.”

Hynes’s matter combined that a congressman suspicion a discussion was being sponsored by a nonprofits.

“In a report, a OCE clearly states it did not accept any justification that a Congressman knew that TCAE was not a solitary organizer or unite of a travel,” Hynes’s matter said. “The OCE serve rightly found that ‘Representative Poe acted in good faith faith on information perceived from a supposed outing unite and capitulation from a Committee on Ethics.’ “

According to a report, 3 other lawmakers who took a outing also declined to concur with a ethics bureau or did not respond: Jackson Lee, a member of a Homeland Security Committee; Lance, a member of a Energy and Commerce Committee; and Meeks, a member of a Foreign Affairs Committee.

Lance’s staff member pronounced a lawmaker had been prepared to concur with a Office of Congressional Ethics when he was told by a House Ethics Committee that it would inspect a case. Lance is now auxiliary with that panel.

Meeks also supposing papers to a OCE though did not give an talk to investigators after training that a ethics row was conducting a possess investigation, his spokeswoman, Ahmadi, pronounced in a statement.

“Congressman Meeks is committed to concur with a Ethics Committee in a hearing of this matter,” she said.

Several lawmakers pronounced they suspicion they had scrupulously reported their ride losses on their avowal forms. Several pronounced they believed they did not need to divulge a gifts since their value did not surpass a $350 stating threshold.

Lujan Grisham told ethics investigators that she did not divulge a rugs since she did not consider they were quite valuable. She also suspicion that they were unattractive.

“It’s not a runner we would have purchased,” a congresswoman said.

A orator for Lujan Grisham told The Post that a congresswoman “takes House Ethics manners seriously” and sought capitulation for a outing by a House Ethics Committee.

“The Office of Congressional Ethics concluded, as reported by a news media, that Rep. Lujan Grisham was led to trust a ride was sponsored by a nonprofit organization, and not any other source,” Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman, pronounced in a statement. “Rep. Lujan Grisham acted in good faith as she relied on a capitulation by House Ethics Committee.”

In new years, as family between a United States and Iran have run-down over Iran’s chief ambitions, Congress and a Obama administration have stepped adult mercantile sanctions. The supervision of Azerbaijan, that shares a limit with Iran, hired several lobbying firms to build a improved attribute with policymakers in Washington.

As Congress weighed a new turn of sanctions opposite Iran in 2012, SOCAR non-stop an bureau in Washington, shopping a building in Dupont Circle for $12 million. On Apr 25 and 26, 2012, a discussion called “U.S.-Azerbaijan Relations: Vision for Future” was hold during a Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown Washington.

Among a attendees were Poe, Meeks and Jackson Lee. Ethics investigators pronounced it seemed that SOCAR was a “major funder” of a conference, citing interviews and photographs published on a Web site for a eventuality that showed banners with SOCAR’s logos inside a hotel.

At a time, Congress was deliberation a Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act. The check contained a sustenance that would free a gas tube plan from Iranian sanctions. The sustenance pronounced that “nothing” in a magnitude would request to “the growth of healthy gas and a construction and operation of a tube to ride healthy gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe.”

Three months later, on Jul 30, 2012, Obama sealed an executive sequence sanctioning additional sanctions opposite Iran and exempting a pipeline. On Aug. 1, Congress authorized a sanctions legislation and a exemption. Obama sealed it into law 9 days later.

Before adjourning for Christmas, Congress authorized another sanctions check called a Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act, that was partial of a National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. That check also contained an grant for a gas pipeline. On Jan. 2, 2013, Obama sealed a legislation into law.

Soon, members of Congress began receiving invitations to attend a prime discussion in Baku, a Azerbaijani capital, famous for a brew of Gothic design and radiant complicated buildings along a shores of a Caspian Sea.

A month before a conference, a nonprofit AFAZ was set adult in Houston, home to some of a world’s largest appetite companies. “Evidence suggested that SOCAR founded AFAZ in a month before to a Convention and eliminated $750,000 to an AFAZ bank criticism before to a Convention,” a OCE news said. AFAZ was combined as an “educational, cultural, business, congressional advocacy and free organization” with a goal of building “bridges between a United States and Azerbaijan,” according to a nonprofit’s Web site.

The investigators for a Office of Congressional Ethics found that AFAZ and a other Houston-based nonprofit, TCAE, secluded a loyal source of a appropriation for ride and other losses for a U.S. officials.

“The OCE found that a disclosed nonprofit sponsors contributed probably no income towards congressional ride to Azerbaijan and played a really singular purpose in organizing a Convention,” a news said.

On Apr 16, 2013, Kemal Oksuz, an executive in assign of a nonprofits, wrote to a boss of SOCAR, requesting $750,000 to safeguard a conference, according to a report. In return, Oksuz affianced that SOCAR’s “logo will be used on all printed materials, banners and website, and that SOCAR will be famous as a Main Sponsor of a Convention.”

On May 13, SOCAR eliminated $750,000 into a Wells Fargo criticism of AFAZ, according to a report. Three days later, AFAZ done a initial income send to compensate for a craft tickets for a discussion attendees.

“SOCAR and AFAZ supposing gifts in a form of impermissible ride losses to congressional travelers in defilement of House rules, regulations and sovereign law,” a ethics investigators said.

Oksuz did not respond to requests for comment.

Last summer, a Houston Chronicle published an hearing of a Baku discussion and interviewed Oksuz. He told a journal that he was not compulsory to divulge corporate sponsorships since “those contributions always came after a conventions.”

The investigators pronounced 5 nonprofits dependent with a Azerbaijani supervision pronounced they sponsored a conference, filing sworn statements with a Ethics Committee in Apr and May 2013.

“The 5 sponsoring organizations contributed no appropriation for a congressional ride in annoy of fake affirmations on a forms they submitted to a Committee on Ethics,” a investigators wrote in a report.

SOCAR fabricated a list of lawmakers, other U.S. officials and private people it wanted to attend a three-day conference. The oil association invited some-more than 30 people to pronounce in Baku, according to a report, including Gibbs, Messina and Plouffe. SOCAR also invited Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), a former authority of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who had mislaid his reelection debate in 2012.

In further to SOCAR, BP, ConocoPhillips and KBR also helped to safeguard a costs of a conference, estimated during $1.5 million. Those costs enclosed $100,000 for hotel accommodations, $75,000 for food and entertainment, and $1.2 million for ride and other expenses.

Several members of Congress and their staff members also took side trips to Turkey, roving to Istanbul, Ankara or both, a investigators found. They enclosed Clarke, Hinojosa, Lance and Lujan Grisham.

The Bosphorus Atlantic Cultural Association of Friendship and Cooperation, a Turkish nonprofit organization, lonesome a expenses, a news said. The lawmakers did not divulge a purpose of that nonprofit.

“Members of Congress who trafficked to Turkey supposed remuneration of ride losses from impermissible sources, ensuing in an impermissible gift, in defilement of House manners and regulations,” a news found.

Investigators also pronounced lawmakers perceived a series of gifts, including clear tea sets, briefcases, silk scarves, bluish earrings, gold-painted plates and Azerbaijani rugs. Some congressional staff members told a investigators they suspicion that a rugs were value about $300 — $50 next a stating threshold — and that they didn’t need to divulge them on their forms filed with a Ethics Committee.

The news pronounced “evidence suggests” that all lawmakers perceived during slightest one runner and some got two, one prayer-size and one area rug. Many staff members also perceived rugs.

Only one lawmaker, Bridenstine, disclosed a rugs on his financial forms. He had them appraised: a smaller runner during $2,500 and a incomparable during $3,500. In a Jul 2013 minute to a Ethics Committee, he pronounced he wanted to present a incomparable runner to a House Clerk’s Office.

Bridenstine was a usually lawmaker to offer to compensate for a rugs out of his possess pocket, revelation a cabinet that he would like to squeeze a smaller runner “at satisfactory marketplace value.”

But, ultimately, he motionless not to keep a rugs.

“Having sought recommendation from a Committee on Ethics, we dynamic a best march of movement was to lapse a rugs and we did so,” he pronounced in a matter to The Post. “I also perceived a porcelain tea set that was valued during $87, good underneath a Foreign Gifts Disclosure Act rules, and an educational book and 4 internal normal song CDs.”

Amy Brittain, Kimbriell Kelly, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

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