HomePoliticsIt's time for Congress to expel Henry Cuellar

It’s time for Congress to expel Henry Cuellar

Rep. Henry Cuellar is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Tom Williams via Getty Images

After weeks of deafening silence from congressional leaders, the House Ethics Committee on Wednesday opened an investigation into Rep. Henry Cuellar after an indictment accused him of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from entities linked to the Azerbaijani government in exchange for political favors.

The Texas Democrat is seen by members of his own party as key to regaining control of the House of Representatives and by Republicans as a reliable conservative voice on social issues, so leaders on both sides of the aisle have declined to publicly to call for disciplinary action against Cuellar – putting politics above the need to confront attempts to undermine American democracy.

Although the House of Representatives has only taken action to expel a sitting member of Congress six times in its history, it is difficult to imagine a member more deserving of expulsion than Cuellar, whose actions have undermined confidence in the integrity of our have fundamentally undermined the democratic process. And given Azerbaijan’s track record of money laundering and “caviar diplomacy,” Cuellar’s scandal could be just the tip of the iceberg, warranting an in-depth examination of the extent of Azerbaijan’s foreign influence operations in the Congres.

The extent of Azerbaijan’s global influence operations was first exposed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in its report on the ‘Azerbaijani Laundromat’ – which found that more than $2.5 billion was transferred through slush between 2012 and 2014 funds were laundered into the accounts of European politicians and international organizations, including UNESCO and the Council of Europe, to stifle criticism of the Azerbaijani regime’s abuses at home and abroad and to promote Azerbaijan’s image on the world stage.

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While Europe has been the most notable target of Azerbaijan’s influence operations, the US has not been immune. In 2013, reports indicated that a congressional delegation to Azerbaijan involving ten members of Congress and more than thirty staffers had been paid without their knowledge by SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s state oil company. The trip was the subject of an Ethics Commission investigation — and ultimately led to the indictment of the delegation’s organizer, Kemal Oksuz, who worked closely with Cuellar to connect Azerbaijani oil executives with American business leaders and elected officials.

However, this conspiracy went beyond money laundering and bribery, as the indictment against Cuellar alleged that Azerbaijani embassy officials regularly directed the congressman to represent Azerbaijan’s interests in the U.S. Congress – and undermine Congress’ efforts to protect Armenia support amid Azerbaijan’s attack on the Nagorno-Karabakh region. . The indictment alleges that the exchange of text messages shows that embassy officials instructed Cuellar — whom they unironically referred to as “Boss” and “El Jefe” — to push for legislative initiatives led by the Congressional Armenian Caucus, which sought to hold Azerbaijan accountable for war crimes and human crimes. violations of rights. And on at least one occasion, Cuellar was reportedly asked to direct the allocation of crucial humanitarian aid to The HALO Trust’s efforts to remove landmines planted by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh that posed a threat to civilian lives – something that the authors of this article have done. long fought to secure. Cuellar has denied the allegations.

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Cuellar and his colleagues from the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus often sought to enhance Azerbaijan’s image as a strategic partner of the United States. As an oil-rich nation, Azerbaijan has positioned itself as a solution to Europe’s energy crisis against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s border with Iran and its close energy and military ties with Israel – which supplies Azerbaijan with 70% of its weapons – have also contributed to the perception that Azerbaijan has a role to play in addressing threats to the US security interests in the region.

Ironically, despite the West’s efforts, Azerbaijan has deepened its cooperation with both Russia and Iran – acting as an energy conduit between the two authoritarian regimes, while purchasing significant amounts of Russian oil and gas to meet European energy demands. Not only have the US and European Union turned a blind eye to Azerbaijan’s collusion in evading Russian sanctions, they have rewarded Azerbaijan with lucrative energy contracts and military aid, even giving the capital Baku the privilege of hosting COP29 United Nations climate conference. In a childish attempt to appease the regime while ignoring the central role Azerbaijan’s energy industry plays in spreading corruption and authoritarianism in the country.

It should go without saying that the attempt to contain Russia and Iran by an authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan – consistently judged as less free than the regimes it is designed to contain – is a self-defeating premise. Yet this persistent belief continues to characterize U.S. policy toward Azerbaijan and has led Washington to ignore Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of the entire Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh last year and its continued occupation of sovereign Armenian territory. As a result, the United States, contrary to its own proclaimed foreign policy goals, has abandoned Armenia’s young democracy to the whims of Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime. Ironically, in its misguided efforts to appease the Baku regime, the West has emboldened Azerbaijan with impunity—and counterintuitively undermined U.S. interests in the region.

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As a matter of principle, Cuellar’s alleged transgressions should have warranted strong action regardless of which government he was scandalously involved with. But the fact that Cuellar appears to have chosen to act on behalf of a regime engaged in the torture of prisoners of war, the execution of civilians, the systematic destruction of Armenian cultural heritage, and the blockade and forced displacement of 150,000 Armenian civilians last year shows contempt not only for our democratic process, but also for the principles of human rights and international law that supposedly underpin American foreign policy.

In light of the seriousness of the charges against Cuellar, both Republicans and Democrats must realize that there is much more at stake than control of the House of Representatives. As the US undermines its credibility on the world stage amid its abject failure to uphold the principles of democracy and human rights that it holds so dear, its refusal to deport Cuellar to Azerbaijan – and other abusive regimes – merely signal that American democracy is for sale. .

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