Skip to content

House Ethics forms subpanel to probe Cuellar’s alleged bribery scheme

Action comes after the Texas Democrat and his wife were indicted on federal charges

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, now faces a House Ethics Committee probe, after his federal indictment was unsealed earlier this month.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, now faces a House Ethics Committee probe, after his federal indictment was unsealed earlier this month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Committee on Ethics announced Wednesday it will launch its own probe into federal foreign influence and bribery charges filed against Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.

Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss., will lead the investigative subcommittee, while Rep. Glenn F. Ivey, D-Md., will serve as ranking member. Reps. Ben Cline, R-Va., and Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., will also serve on the subcommittee.

The aim is “to determine whether Representative Cuellar solicited or accepted bribes, gratuities, or improper gifts; acted as a foreign agent; violated federal money laundering laws; misused his official position for private gain; and/or made false statements or omissions on public disclosure statements filed with the House,” the committee said in a statement.

Cuellar denied the allegations. “I respect the work of the House Ethics Committee,” he said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “I am innocent of these allegations, and everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas.”

According to House rules, the Ethics Committee has within 30 days of a member’s indictment to form an investigative subcommittee, or report to the House its reasons for declining to form one.

“The Committee is aware of the risks associated with dual investigations and is in communication with the Department of Justice to mitigate the potential risks while still meeting the Committee’s obligations to safeguard the integrity of the House,” the House Ethics statement continues.

Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, were indicted by the Justice Department in late April over two alleged schemes. The unsealed indictment, released earlier this month, accused Cuellar and his wife of taking around $600,000 in bribes between 2014 and 2021 from the government of Azerbaijan and an unnamed foreign bank headquartered in Mexico City.

“The bribe payments were allegedly laundered, pursuant to sham consulting contracts, through a series of front companies and middlemen into shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar, who performed little to no legitimate work under the contracts,” a Justice Department press release said.

“In exchange for the bribes paid by the Mexican bank, Congressman Cuellar allegedly agreed to influence legislative activity and to advise and pressure high-ranking U.S. Executive Branch officials regarding measures beneficial to the bank,” the release continues.

The indictment came more than two years after the FBI raided Cuellar’s home, reportedly in connection with a federal investigation related to Azerbaijan.

The litany of federal criminal charges against the Cuellars include five counts of money laundering, two counts of bribery of a federal official and two counts of violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal, according to the Justice Department.

Cuellar issued a statement at the time the charges were announced asserting his innocence and the innocence of his wife. He also reaffirmed his plans to run for reelection this fall. Cuellar has represented Texas’ 28th District — which includes parts of San Antonio and extends south to the U.S.-Mexico border — since 2005.

The seat is rated “likely Democratic” by Inside Elections. Cuellar will face Republican Jay Furman, a military veteran who said he was driven to run by the “illegality” of the government’s COVID-19 response and the situation at the Southern border, according to the Texas Tribune.

Cuellar is a conservative Democrat and the last member of his party in the House who opposes abortion rights. Most of his Democratic colleagues, who seek to take back the majority in the upcoming Congress, have so far refrained from calling on Cuellar to resign. 

Ryan Tarinelli and Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

Wyden wants more Medicaid funding to keep obstetric units open

Supreme Court’s redistricting decision could hurt map challengers

Does Joe Biden need a miracle or just a bit of good luck?

Graves decides not to run after Louisiana district redrawn

Garland won’t face contempt of Congress charge over Biden audio

Hold on to your bats! — Congressional Hits and Misses