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House Democrats don’t call for Cuellar resignation after indictment

Key party leaders say Texas Democrat is entitled to make his defense in court

Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, left, and John Carter, R-Texas, arrive for a House subcommittee hearing last month.
Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, left, and John Carter, R-Texas, arrive for a House subcommittee hearing last month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Key House Democrats have shown no signs of urging Rep. Henry Cuellar to resign after a federal indictment charged the Texas Democrat with money laundering and bribery, among other criminal counts.

An indictment unsealed last week accuses Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, of taking about $600,000 in bribes from the government of Azerbaijan and an unnamed foreign bank headquartered in Mexico City.

At a press conference Tuesday, California Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, described the allegations as “incredibly serious” but did not call on Cuellar to resign.

“He’s entitled to make his defense. He is entitled to the presumption of innocence. We look forward to that process playing out,” Aguilar said. “And just like every American, he’s entitled to that presumption. I think that’s the overwhelming feeling of House Democrats.”

Cuellar has pledged to run for reelection, stated his and his wife’s innocence, and said the actions he took in Congress were consistent with those of his colleagues. He also said he had consulted with the House Ethics Committee.

The reception from congressional Democrats is a noticeable departure from when some Democratic lawmakers called for Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., to resign after federal authorities accused the senator and his wife of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes.

In the Cuellar case, the indictment says the bribe payments were laundered “pursuant to sham consulting contracts” through a series of front companies and middlemen into shell companies that were owned by Cuellar’s wife, who did “little or no legitimate work under the sham contracts.”

Aguilar sought to draw a distinction between the Cuellar indictment and federal cases against Menendez and former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y.

Menendez is set to go on trial next week in a sprawling corruption case. Santos is facing criminal charges and was expelled from the House after a notorious congressional career spent under heavy media attention and a shadow of lies.

Aguilar pointed to Cuellar’s experience as a public official and underscored his connections to other lawmakers, saying the Texas Democrat has deep relationships with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“We know that he is a serious public official, public servant,” Aguilar said of Cuellar. “And I think that’s what sets this apart from other issues and the silliness of George Santos that we had in the past. And I think that’s why many of us are treating this a little different.”

Cuellar has gotten support from other parts of the caucus as well. Brian Garcia, a spokesperson for Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., said in a statement that Cuellar “has been a steadfast advocate for his constituents in South Texas and an important voice in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.”

“The Congressman has stated that he is innocent of the allegations in the indictment and that he was proactive in seeking Ethics Committee guidance. He deserves his day in court to respond,” Garcia said.

Cuellar’s campaign in an email last year touted endorsements by key Democrats like House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; House Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass.; and Aguilar.

Christie Stephenson, a spokeswoman for Jeffries, said in a statement Friday that Cuellar “is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process.”

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