Sassounian: US Lawmakers Violated Laws by Taking Trips to Azerbaijan, Turkey

In a lengthy article titled, “10 members of Congress took trip secretly funded by foreign government,” the Washington Post disclosed last week the scandalous details of an all-expenses-paid trip to a conference in Azerbaijan by 10 lawmakers and 32 staff members in 2013. Former top aides to President Obama—Robert Gibbs, Jim Messina and David Plough—also attended the conference as guest speakers.

The organizer of the international oil gathering in Baku, SOCAR, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, funneled $750,000 through 2 U.S. nonprofit organizations “to conceal the source of the funding” for the trip, according to a confidential Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) report obtained by the Washington Post. Another $750,000 was contributed by British Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, and KBR for airfare, hotel, and gifts.

The newspaper also reported that “shortly before the May 28-29, 2013 conference, SOCAR and several large energy companies [including the National Iranian Oil Company] sought exemptions for a $28 billion natural gas pipeline in the Caspian Sea from U.S. economic sanctions being imposed on Iran.” In fact, a month before the conference, SOCAR established the nonprofit Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ) in Houston by transferring $750,000. The second nonprofit involved in the scheme, also based in Houston, was the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE). Both nonprofits, headed by Kemal Oksuz, shared the same Houston address.

Congress approved several bills sanctioning Iran, while exempting the SOCAR project. Obama then signed these bills into law.

The 10 members of Congress who went on the Baku junket were Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Michelle Grisham (D- N.M.), Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), and Steve Stockman (R-Texas).

Ethics investigators disclosed that these lawmakers, accompanied by their spouses and fiancés, received several gifts, including “crystal tea sets, briefcases, silk scarves, turquoise earrings, gold-painted plates, and Azerbaijani rugs. … All lawmakers received at least one rug and some got two, one prayer-size and one area rug. Many staff members also received rugs.”

To justify their illegal or improper actions, some of these lawmakers made ridiculous statements to congressional investigators:
— Cong. Davis stated that during the Baku conference, he “received one rug which was delivered to his hotel room.” He said he was thinking about donating the rug to a museum or charity!
— Cong. Hinojosa claimed, “I received souvenirs of what I believed to be of minimal value and in compliance with the House Gift rule.”
— Ladan Ahmadi, spokeswoman for Rep. Meeks, stated that the Congressman “understood the rug to be a permissible courtesy gift.”
— A senior staff member of Rep. Lance told the Washington Post that the Congressman “returned the one rug he received after he got back to Washington. The staff member also said Lance received a pair of earrings and reimbursed the nonprofit group that helped organize the conference $100 immediately upon returning to New Jersey.”
— Cong. Grisham told ethics investigators that she did not disclose the rugs because she did not think they were particularly valuable. She also thought they were unattractive: “It’s not a carpet I would have purchased.”
— Cong. Bridenstine was the only lawmaker who disclosed the rugs on his financial report. “He had them appraised: the smaller rug at $2,500 and the larger at $3,500.”

Quoting from the ethics report, the Washington Post revealed that Reps. Clarke, Grisham, Hinojosa, Lance, and their staff members also “took side trips to Turkey, traveling to Istanbul, Ankara or both. … The Bosphorus Atlantic Cultural Association of Friendship and Cooperation, a Turkish nonprofit organization, covered the expenses, the report said. The lawmakers did not disclose the role of that nonprofit.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics concluded that “SOCAR and AFAZ provided gifts in the form of impermissible travel expenses to congressional travelers in violation of House rules, regulations, and federal law,” while “members of Congress who traveled to Turkey accepted payment of travel expenses from impermissible sources, resulting in an impermissible gift, in violation of House rules and regulations.”

Furthermore, the investigators reported that five nonprofits affiliated with the Azerbaijani government asserted that they sponsored the conference, filing sworn statements with the Ethics Committee in April and May 2013. “The five sponsoring organizations contributed no funding for the congressional travel in spite of false affirmations on the forms they submitted to the Committee on Ethics.”

The Washington Post reported that these findings have been referred to the House Ethics Committee for investigation of possible violation of congressional rules and federal laws that bar foreign governments from trying to influence U.S. policy.
It is deeply troubling that members of Congress are willing to sell their souls to corrupt Azerbaijani and Turkish entities for a free rug!

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Makes me feel dirty just to read this, yet not surprised. Countless politicians and world leaders have become weak at the knees when staring at mountains of petro dollars. The greed associated with who owns oil rights has influenced geopolitics for decades—and has been hurting Armenian interests since the unholy abandonment of the Treaty of Sevres.

  2. For more about the nefarious goings on of BP in Azerbaijan and elsewhere, see Persona Non Grata: End of the Great Game by Avery Mann. The oil lobbyists in DC are revealed as well as their willingness to do anything in the pursuit of pipeline and other deals. They feature in the suffering of Armenians and other Christians in the region and, because of the early importance of Baku, have done so going back to the Genocide.

  3. Wasn’t the Genocide itself about theft at its core? yes it was.

    Isn’t the denial of the Genocide today by third parties about not “upsetting investments and strategic partners” or political and or economic gains? yes it is.

    Money trumps everything. Unless caught that is.

  4. This clearly illustrates the influence of dirty money on real-politik and the corruption that permeates in Washington D.C.
    It is shameful and disgusting. What is more disturbing is that the ten members of congress, 6 Democrats and four Republicans,(they all stink) even though most assuredly violated congressional rules and federal laws, The Ethics Committee will conduct a sham investigation, slap them on the wrist, close the matter, and push it under the rug.
    The crux of the problem are not the rugs. Its the expenses paid for travel, the entertainment provided and the “shady” deals made on promised campaign contributions by these supposedly non-profit organizations whose roles are suspect and ill defined, to the various PACs.
    Extremely disheartening but a sad reality. How can Washington be cleansed, when money can corrupt peoples’ ( not all but most) souls and buy their integrity.
    Vart Adjemian

  5. In 2000 Dennis Hastert announced he would support an Armenian Genocide resolution.
    The resolution, vehemently opposed by Turkey, had passed the Human Rights Subcommittee of the House and the International Relations Committee but Hastert, although first supporting it, withdrew the resolution on the eve of the full House vote.
    According to Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator, she picked up a conversation where an official at the Turkish Consulate is said to have claimed in one recording, that was translated by her, that the price for Dennis Hastert (speaker of the House at the time) to withdraw the Armenian Genocide resolution would have been at least $500,000.
    A September 2005 article in Vanity Fair revealed that during her work, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds had heard Turkish wiretap targets boast of covert relations with Hastert. The article states, “the targets reportedly discussed giving Hastert tens of thousands of dollars in surreptitious payments in exchange for political favors and information.”
    A spokesman for Hastert later denied the claims.
    Following his Congressional career, Hastert received a $35,000 per month contract lobbying on behalf of Turkey.
    (….I guess pretty hard to deny actually getting a contract to lie for Turks)

    In 2011, Representative Jean Schmidt, Republican of Ohio, was ordered by the House Ethics Committee to repay a Turkish-American group $500,000 for legal services it improperly paid for to help her pursue a defamation lawsuit and other legal proceedings against a Democratic opponent in the 2008 election.
    (“legal services it improperly paid..”:is that what they called it?)
    (isn’t there another word for that?)
    (and did the Turks also give her a ‘Turkish’ rug?)

    According to California Courier, former Rep Gephardt (Gephardt Group) is paid $1.4 million a year to lie (my word) (OK: article says “lobby”) for Turkey in Washington.
    And thanks to the efforts of ANCA-WR, Gephardt is $845,000 poorer as of 2015: City of Los Angeles cancelled its contract with the Gephardt Group.

    The only way Turkic invadonomad denialists can attempt to alter history is by buying the services of professionals from the ranks of the oldest profession.
    And apparently the price per trick has gone waaaay down:
    Highest paid of the 10 was Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-Tex.)
    He got about $19,000 worth from Baku Khanate. (according to Washington Post)
    Lowest was Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.)
    He got about $1,900 worth.
    Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) did it for free.
    Desperate for companionship, apparently.

    The professionals better load up on goodies from the Aliyev Crime Syndicate while they can: the source of free cash is drying up in Baku Khanate with their oil running out and price per barrel reduced by 50%.

    • Thank you for this, I did not know about Sibel Edmonds. All I knew was that Turkish pressure had forced a climbdown, but the detail is far worse – unsurprisingly I suppose!

  6. In a more cheerful news, Mr. Hastert (yes, that Hastert) has been indicted by a Grand Jury.

    According to Los Angeles times (May 29, 2015, 12:22 PM):
    [Asked why Hastert was making the payments, the official said it was to conceal Hastert’s past relationship with the male. “It was sex,’’ the source said. The other official confirmed that the misconduct involved sexual abuse.]
    [Federal prosecutors alleged that Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million in apparent hush money to the individual, then lied to the FBI when asked about suspicious cash withdrawals from several banks.]

    Why are we not surprised.
    A swine (allegedly) taking bribes from Turks to block the AG vote is accused of sexual abuse – of a male.
    It would be interesting if FBI can trace the cash he (allegedly) received from the Turks to the blackmail money he gave to ‘Individual A’.

    We wait with baited breath for further revelations of the depths of depravity Denialists are capable of descending to.

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