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Front Page Albuquerque Journal Story Blasted Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham For Possible Ethics Violations
Albuquerque, NM- Yesterday, news of a possible ethics violation from Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham made the front page of the Albuquerque Journal.
The Republican Party of New Mexico released the following statement on the actions of Congresswoman Grisham:
“Congresswoman Grisham’s actions demonstrate a clear lack of ethics. Refusing to disclose the gifts she received is a slap in the face to New Mexico’s taxpayers who deserve open and transparent government at all levels,” said Pat Garrett, spokesman for the Republican Party of New Mexico.
Lujan Grisham part of junket to Azerbaijan
The Albuquerque Journal
By: Michael Coleman
May 14, 2015
WASHINGTON – Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and nine other members of Congress traveled to Azerbaijan in the spring of 2013 on a trip secretly paid for by the Central Asian nation’s state-owned oil company, according to a newspaper report.
The report in The Washington Post on Wednesday also said the Albuquerque Democrat and some of her colleagues received Azerbaijani rugs as gifts but failed to report them on disclosure forms when they returned home.
House ethics rules prohibit members of Congress from accepting gifts from “an agent or a foreign principal” but appear to allow gifts valued up to $350 from a foreign government “as a souvenir or mark of courtesy.” The rules say any gifts worth more than $350 must be disclosed.
The Post cited a confidential 70-page report by the House Ethics Committee as the source of the information.
Lujan Grisham told ethics investigators she didn’t disclose the gifts under House ethics rules “because she did not think they were particularly valuable. She also thought that they were unattractive,” according to the Post report.
“It’s not a carpet I would have purchased,” the congresswoman told House ethics investigators.
Lujan Grisham’s spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, declined to provide the Journal with photographs of the rugs in question. The Azerbaijani rugs were valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according the Ethics Committee report obtained but not made public by the Post.
Lujan Grisham told House ethics investigators she thought the trip was being paid for by two Houston-based nonprofit corporations. But the report concluded that Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR, secretly provided $750,000 to the nonprofit groups to cover the cost of the lawmakers’ travel and other expenses. The Post reported that 32 congressional staffers also made the trip.
The congressional group attended a conference in the Caspian seaside town of Baku titled “U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention: Vision for the Future,” which took place on May 28 and 29, 2013. Lujan Grisham also traveled to Turkey as part of the trip.
Lujan Grisham took her fiancé, Manuel Cordova, on the all-expenses-paid 2013 trip but paid $4,980 for his flights “out of an abundance of caution,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos said Lujan Grisham sought – and received – approval for the trip before she left.
“The Congresswoman takes House Ethics rules seriously, which is why she sought and received written approval from the Ethics Committee before taking the trip,” Gallegos said. “The Office of Congressional Ethics concluded, as reported by the news media, that Rep. Lujan Grisham was led to believe the travel was sponsored by a nonprofit organization, and not any other source. Rep. Lujan Grisham acted in good faith as she relied on the approval by House Ethics Committee.
“Rep. Lujan Grisham has fully cooperated with the Office of Congressional Ethics, and is continuing to cooperate with the House Ethics Committee.”
Several members of Congress and their staff members, including Lujan Grisham, also took side trips to Turkey, traveling to Istanbul, Ankara or both, the Post reported.
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.
“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,” the Post reported the Ethics Committee report as saying.
In her travel disclosure, Lujan Grisham characterized the necessity for her trip.
“Turkey and Azerbaijan are critical allies and key friends for the U.S. in the region,” her disclosure said. “Turkey does have a close cooperation with the U.S. on regional issues. Azerbaijan plays a very critical role for the energy diversification and regional security.”
Lujan Grisham, who is in her second House term, serves on the House Budget, Agriculture and government oversight committees.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, called the Post report “very disturbing” – both in terms of members of Congress being feted by foreign governments and their failure to disclose gifts.
“Obviously, whether a member of Congress likes the gift doesn’t have any impact on what the (disclosure) requirement are,” he said. “It seems to strain credulity a bit to say, when you have these apparently handcrafted rugs, that members thought they were less than the maximum of what you can take from a foreign government, which at the time was $350.”
The bipartisan group of lawmakers who took the trip were Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee. D-Texas, Leonard Lance, R-N.J., Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., Ted Poe, R-Texas and then-Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas.
The Republican Party of New Mexico denounced Lujan Grisham’s failure to disclose the gifts.
“Congresswoman Grisham’s actions demonstrate a clear lack of ethics,” said Pat Garrett, the party’s spokesman. “Refusing to disclose the gifts she received is a slap in the face to New Mexico’s taxpayers who deserve open and transparent government at all levels.”