Updated May 29, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democratic Rep. Cuellar faces House Ethics probe

Rep. Henry Cuellar, wearing a blue suit and sitting in the Rules Committee chamber.

Rep. Henry Cuellar. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for allegations that include accepting bribes, money laundering and abuse of office, the panel announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: It creates fresh political peril for the already embattled South Texas Democrat as he defends himself from a federal criminal indictment.

  • Cuellar has denied the charges and said he plans to continue to seek re-election in November.

Driving the news: Reps. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) and Susan Wild (D-Pa.), the chair and ranking member of the Ethics Committee, said in a statement that the panel voted "unanimously" to form a subcommittee to investigate Cuellar.

  • Such a vote is required by House rules within 30 days after a member is indicted.
  • Guest and Wild said the probe will look into allegations that Cuellar accepted bribes and received improper gifts, acted as a foreign agent, violated federal money laundering statutes, misused his office for personal gain and lied on financial disclosure forms.
  • The subcommittee will be led by Guest and Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), with Reps. Ben Cline (R-Va.) and Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) also serving.

What he's saying: "I respect the work of the House Ethics Committee," Cuellar said in a statement.

  • "As I said on May 3rd, I am innocent of these allegations, and everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas."

The backdrop: Cuellar is facing prosecution by the Justice Department for allegations he took nearly $600,000 in bribery payments from an Azerbaijan-controlled oil company and a Mexican bank.

  • Cuellar is accused of influencing legislation and pressuring executive branch officials on behalf of the bank and the government of Azerbaijan in exchange.
  • The indictment has been met largely with silence from Cuellar's colleagues, with retiring Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) still the only one who has called on him to resign.

Zoom in: Wild and Guest said they are "aware of the risks associated with dual investigations."

  • They said the committee is in communication with the Justice Department to "mitigate the potential risks while still meeting the Committee's obligations to safeguard the integrity of the House.

Zoom out: While Cuellar already faces substantial legal risk, the committee probe could imperil him politically.

  • The Ethics Committee often hands down perfunctory punishments, but its probes can be damning on the campaign trail.
  • The panel also proved potent last year when its bombshell report against former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) precipitated his expulsion in an overwhelming bipartisan House vote.
  • Cuellar is up for re-election in a competitive district – though one that still leans Democratic.
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