The House Ethics Committee announced plans Monday to extend its review of nine members of Congress alleged to have accepted gifts and airfare to Azerbaijan that were secretly paid for by that country’s state-owned oil company.
In the committee's first public acknowledgement of the investigation since confidential material from the Office of Congressional Ethics report surfaced on May 13 in the Washington Post , Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., did not detail much about the charges against and six Democrats and three Republicans — but they did criticize the leak. "Although the Committee is required to make public the materials transmitted to it by [the Office of Congressional Ethics] in certain circumstances, the Committee did not authorize the public release of those materials," Dent and Sánchez said in a joint statement. "Such an unauthorized release may have violated House Rules and other standards of conduct. Moreover, the unauthorized disclosure of the materials has directly impacted the Committee’s investigation, which began well before OCE transmitted the materials to the Committee."
They note that a referral from the quasi-independent OCE is expressly precluded from containing any conclusions regarding the validity of the allegations upon which it is based, or the guilt or innocence of the individual who is the subject of a review.
"The Committee’s investigation and the materials sent to the Committee by OCE involve privately-sponsored, officially-connected travel to Azerbaijan," the statement continued. "Each of the nine Members sought the Committee’s review and determination whether they could accept the invitation. In each case, the Committee reviewed the materials submitted by the Member and sponsor and approved the Member to accept the travel before the trip began. Subsequently, questions arose about whether the trips complied with the requirements for such travel."
Democratic Reps. Yvette Clarke of New York, Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Rubén Hinojosa of Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Gregory W. Meeks, of New York, plus Republican Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Leonard Lance of New Jersey and Ted Poe of Texas, have fully cooperated with the committee's review, according to the statement from Dent and Sánchez.
The Washington Post report said a handful of lawmakers did not cooperate with OCE.
The agency did not publicly comment on the investigation, or the committee's extended review of the Azerbaijan trips.
Another announcement on the matter is expected Aug. 6.
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