On August 26, a coalition of civic organizations and academics sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics calling for releasing the results of an investigation into all-expense-paid trips to Azerbaijan taken by 10 congressmen in 2013, Washington DC-based non-profit organization
reported on August 26.
The Washington Post
reported that the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (“SOCAR”) funded an all-expenses-paid trip in May 2013 to a Baku conference for ten US congressmen and 32 staff members.
The US newspaper obtained a confidential
Office of Congressional Ethics
report claiming that three former top aides to US President Barack Obama appeared as speakers at the May 2013 event, titled “U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention: Vision for the Future.”
Lawmakers and their staff members allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according to the ethics report. Airfare for the lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, travel invoices reportedly show.
Earlier in August, the Ethics Committee cleared the deputies of wrongdoing following an extensive investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) and refused to release the findings.
The letter signed by ten US watchdog groups read the following: “We are concerned about the Committee’s unprecedented decision not to release the OCE’s findings in circumstances where the Members under investigation remain within the Ethics Committee jurisdiction. This decision is especially concerning because the Committee itself played a decisive role in approving the Members’ travel to Azerbaijan.”
The letter is signed by the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Demand Progress, Democracy 21, the National Legal & Policy Center and Public Citizen as well as scholars Thomas Mann, Norm Ornstein and James Thurber.
The letter concludes: “It is unknown whether the OCE’s findings shed any light on the role of the Committee in approving these trips. … It appears on the basis of the information contained in the Committee’s Report that the Committee did not comply with the applicable law and rules pertaining to its request that the OCE ‘cease and refer’ the Azerbaijan matter.”