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It was odd enough when former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) turned up in Tripoli last week, where he datelined an opinion piece for the New York Times saying he was there to persuade Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step aside. Perhaps stranger still is who paid the former Congressman’s way.
Houston attorney Brian Ettinger and Steve Payne, who is described in a press statement as a human rights advocate, “paid their own expenses as well as Mr. Weldon’s travel expenses to Libya,” according to the statement sent by an associate of Payne’s.
The statement added that Payne and Ettinger “are currently in Tripoli” accompanying Weldon.
Payne, when contacted early last week before Weldon’s opinion piece was published, denied any plans to travel to Libya with Weldon. Instead, he said he was in Paris on “other business.”
“We don’t have any specific plans,” Payne said at the time, adding that Weldon was not “with me right now” and that he didn’t know where the former lawmaker was.
No matter their plans earlier that week, Payne apparently ended up in Libya with Weldon and Ettinger.
A more detailed press statement, also sent by Payne’s associate, Benjamin R. Johns, said Weldon’s private trip to Libya concluded Friday and was something of a disappointment because it did not include a face-to-face meeting with Gadhafi “as promised.” The statement noted that Weldon “reiterated his support for the requirements outlined by President [Barack] Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary [Rodham] Clinton.”
Weldon and his delegation were also “involved in a quiet humanitarian mission to escort rape victim Eman [al-Obeidy] out of Tripoli returning her to her family in [Benghazi],” the statement said.
Weldon, who could not be reached for comment, said in the statement that he went to Libya “because of [Gadhafi’s] personal admonition to me in my 2004 face-to-face meeting as the first U.S. official to meet him in 25 years.”
One of the press releases from Payne’s associate added that “Payne and Ettinger have no current business in Libya or with the [Gadhafi] family nor does Congressman Weldon who is not being paid for this private trip.”
Neither currently represents any federal lobbying clients, but Lobbying Disclosure Act records show Brian Ettinger of Houston was registered to lobby on behalf of the Caspian Alliance from 2006 to 2007. The registration says the alliance does “energy consulting services for commercial energy projects in the Caspian Region for U.S. and foreign companies.” Ettinger was also registered for the Pakistan Human Development Fund in 2003.