Updated May 3, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democratic Rep. Cuellar indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges

Rep. Henry Cuellar, wearing a blue suit and holding a piece of paper at a committee hearing.

Rep. Henry Cuellar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and his wife were indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges Friday.

The big picture: Cuellar's South Texas home had been the subject of an FBI raid in 2022 as part of a probe into the country of Azerbaijan and U.S. businessmen.

  • The indictment was first reported by NBC News.

State of play: Cuellar and his wife, Imelda, accepted almost $600,000 in bribes from an Azerbaijan-controlled oil and gas company and a bank in Mexico between 2014 and 2021, the DOJ alleged in an indictment.

  • In return, Cuellar agreed to "influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan" and advance the bank's interests in the U.S., the indictment said.
  • Cuellar and his wife were both charged with 14 counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery of a federal official, wire fraud, money laundering and acting as foreign agents.
  • Both made their first court appearances Friday in Houston and were each released on a $100,000 bond, per the DOJ.

Zoom in: Among the accusations is that, in exchange for bribery payments, Cuellar pushed legislation and pressured executive branch officials to help Azerbaijan and undercut rival Armenia.

  • That allegedly included getting language inserted into defense authorization and government spending bills to bolster U.S. security support for investment in Azerbaijan, as well as delivering a pro-Azerbaijan speech on the House floor.
  • Cuellar is also accused of performing the same services on behalf of the Mexican bank, including backing legislation blocking payday lending regulations and relaxing criminal money-laundering laws.
  • A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Cuellar sits on the subcommittees on defense and military construction.

What he's saying: Cuellar said in a statement ahead of the indictment Friday that he and his wife were "innocent of these allegations."

  • He said that before he "took any action," he "proactively sought legal advice" from the House Ethics Committee. He said his actions were "consistent with the actions of many of my colleagues and in the interest of the American people."
  • Cuellar added that he and his wife "requested a meeting with the Washington DC prosecutors to explain the facts and they refused to discuss the case with us or to hear our side."

Zoom out: Christie Stephenson, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), said in a statement Friday that Cuellar is "entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process."

  • "Congressman Cuellar will take leave as Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee while this matter is ongoing," Stephenson added.

What we're watching: Cuellar, who already won his primary unopposed in March, said he plans to run for re-election in November.

  • He could face political peril in the general election — his district voted for President Biden by just 8 percentage points in 2020 — though he has heavily out-raised both his potential GOP rivals.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details about the indictments.

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