Members of the House who took a trip in 2013 that was secretly funded by the Azerbaijani government denied any wrongdoing on Wednesday, stressing that the travel was pre-approved by the Ethics Committee.
Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) each released a statement defending their travel to the central Asian nation.
“The House Committee on Ethics approved my travel request in writing prior to the trip, as is required for all House Members’ travel,” Bridenstine said in a lengthy statement.
Poe’s office said the lawmaker cooperated fully with an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), and that no evidence was found that the Texas Republican knew of the secret funding arrangement.
The office of Meeks, meanwhile, said the congressman had “had no reason to believe that the trip was in any way inappropriate” and remains “confident that he complied with the law.”
The lawmakers scrambled to respond after The Washington Post obtained a 70-page report about the Azerbaijan trip complied by the OCE, an independent entity that investigates allegations of misconduct against lawmakers and their staffs.
Ten lawmakers and 32 congressional aides accepted gifts and airfare to Azerbaijan that were secretly paid for by the country’s state-owned oil company, the OCE report said.
The expenses totaled more than $125,000, including airfare, and included gifts to lawmakers of crystal tea sets, silk scarves and Azerbaijani rugs that were valued at between $2,500 and $10,000 each.