Over 1,000-pages of Documents Released Following Grassroots Pressure from ANCA and Public Calls by Watchdog Groups
WASHINGTON—Over the ongoing objections by the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), Wednesday, in a bold move, released its entire 70-page report and over 1,000 pages of findings from its investigation into secretive Azerbaijani government funding for Congressional participation in an extravagant 2013 Baku conference, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
In a statement released today along with its investigative documents, the OCE explained “Respectful of the principles of transparency and accountability in the House ethics process, and with assurance that it will not prejudice any action by the Department of Justice, the OCE Board has voted to release the nine referrals, including the Findings of Fact, as permitted by section 1(f)(1)(B) of House Resolution 895.” This action by the professional staff of the OCE came over the objections of the House Ethnics Committee, which is comprised of sitting members of Congress, including those who continued receiving campaign contributions from donors connected to the Azerbaijani oil industry during the course of this investigation.
“We applaud the Office of Congressional Ethics for their principled stand for government transparency and accountability,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “This bold move trumps those who would keep information from the American people, ensuring that all U.S. citizens have full access to deeply troubling information regarding to a foreign dictator’s efforts to manipulate our democratic system.”
The decision on whether or not to release the report has been an ongoing source of tension between two Capitol Hill ethics bodies – the House Committee on Ethics (Ethics Committee) and the OCE.
On July 31st, the Ethics Committee provisionally cleared 10 U.S. Representatives and over 30 Congressional staff who had been under investigation for allegedly accepting illegal foreign funding to participate in a 2013 conference, funded by the State oil company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR): “U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention: Vision for the Future.” The Ethics Committee found that the Members had not knowingly violated the law, since the nominal funders of the trip – the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ) and groups associated with the Turkic American Association (TAA) – had apparently concealed from the Congress the fact that SOCAR was, in reality, the true source of the junkets’ financing. The Ethics Committee then referred the case to the Department of Justice, but – in a move that generated international media attention – refused to release the OCE findings. The findings of the OCE, an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing and, as appropriate, referring allegations of Congressional misconduct to the Ethics Committee, are typically released to the public after the close of each investigation. By all accounts, an exception had been made in this instance, at the insistence of Committee members, to keep these findings secret.
In an August 3rd letter to House Ethics Committee Chairman Charles Dent (R-PA) and Ranking Member Linda Sanchez (D-CA), ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian called for the release of the findings “in the interests of government transparency and the rights of a fully informed electorate.” He stressed: “The Committee should not withhold from American citizens any information involving foreign attempts to manipulate our democratic system or that, in the Committee’s own words, reveals ‘evidence of concerted, possibly criminal, efforts’ by any party – foreign or domestic – seeking any manner of undue influence with U.S. policymakers.”
The controversy surrounding foreign funding of the Azerbaijan trips first came to light in July, 2014, in an in-depth article published by the Houston Chronicle, which prompted the Ethics Committee to begin review of the matter.
The Washington Post, in May of this year, first revealed the existence of the OCE report in a major investigative article titled, “10 Members of Congress Took Trip Secretly Funded by Foreign Government.”
In August, after the Ethics Committee report was released, the Center for Responsible Politics published an in-depth article spotlighting donations by supporters of the Turkic American Alliance to Chairman Dent, titled “Ethics Chair Received Contributions from Donors Linked to Groups in Azerbaijan Probe.”