Ethics: Lawmakers didn’t ‘knowingly’ break rules with Azerbaijan gifts

Ethics: Lawmakers didn’t ‘knowingly’ break rules with Azerbaijan gifts
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The House Ethics Committee on Friday closed an investigation into 10 lawmakers and 32 congressional aides, finding that they did not “knowingly” break any law or House rule when they accepted airfare and gifts that were secretly funded by Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company.

But the Ethics panel said “third parties” outside the House may have broken the law by misleading congressional investigators, as well as lawmakers and staffers on the trip. The panel said it would refer the matter to the Justice Department.

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Investigators found that money for airfare and gifts may have been hidden through Texas-based nonprofits, which filed false statements saying they were paying for the trip.

“The Committee is referring the matter of third parties apparently engaging in a criminal conspiracy to lie to Congress to the Department of Justice for such further action as it deems appropriate,” the Ethics Chairman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), the ranking member, said in a joint statement.

The Ethics Committee said all of the lawmakers and staff members who attended the 2013 trip did so only after receiving prior approval from the same Ethics panel. And those questioned in the investigation all cooperated, the committee said.

“The Committee found no evidence that the members and staff who participated in the trip knowingly violated any House Rule, law, regulation or other standard of conduct,” the Ethics panel said.

The probe included a dozen subpoenas, interviews with 10 witnesses, 18 voluntary requests for information, and 190,000 pages of material.  

“Because the House travelers acted in good faith, and the evidence was inconclusive as to the true source of funds for the travel, the Committee concluded that the trips did not constitute an impermissible gift of travel, and decided that no further action is required," the panel wrote.

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