U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) speaks at a House hearing in Washington, D.C. on March 23, 2023.

(Phoro: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

US Rep. Henry Cuellar and Wife Indicted on Bribery Charges

"In exchange for the bribe payments to Imelda Cuellar, Henry Cuellar agreed to perform official acts in his capacity as a member of Congress," the indictment states.

The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed Friday that Democratic Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, were indicted last week for allegedly "participating in two schemes involving bribery, unlawful foreign influence, and money laundering."

According to the indictment, between at least December 2014 and November 2021, the Cuellars allegedly took approximately $600,000 in bribes from a fossil fuel company owned by the Azerbaijani government and an unnamed bank headquartered in Mexico City. The congressman, who has served on Capitol Hill for nearly two decades and is seeking reelection, previously co-chaired the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.

"The bribe payments were laundered, pursuant to sham consulting contracts, through a series of front companies and middlemen into shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar," the document states. "In exchange for the bribe payments to Imelda Cuellar, Henry Cuellar agreed to perform official acts in his capacity as a member of Congress, to commit acts in violation of his official duties, and to act as an agent of the government of Azerbaijan and [the foreign bank]."

NBC News first reported early Friday that the Justice Department was expected to release the indictment, which came more than two years after a Federal Bureau of Investigation raid of the couple's Laredo home. Before the document was unsealed, the congressman claimed in a statement that his actions were "consistent with the actions of many of my colleagues and in the interest of the American people."

"I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations," Cuellar said Friday. "Before I took any action, I proactively sought legal advice from the House Ethics Committee, who gave me more than one written opinion, along with an additional opinion from a national law firm."

The Cuellars "made their initial court appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dena Palermo in Houston," the Justice Departmnet said Friday. If convicted of all the charges, the 68-year-old congressman and his 67-year-old wife could face decades in prison.

Congressional Democratic leadership last year endorsed Cuellar for reelection in November, despite his opposition to abortion rights—a key issue for this cycle at all levels of politics. During the 2022 cycle, after nearly losing to progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros, he beat the Republican nominee, Cassy Garcia, 57% to 43%.

A spokesperson for U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Christie Stephenson, saidin a Friday statement that "Henry Cuellar has admirably devoted his career to public service and is a valued member of the House Democratic Caucus. Like any American, Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process."

"Pursuant to House Democratic Caucus Rule 24, Congressman Cuellar will take leave as ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee while this matter is ongoing," Stephenson added.

Cuellar isn't the only Democrat in Congress battling allegations of corruption and bribery charges. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were indicted last September and accused of accepting bribes in the form of "cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value."

The following month, the Justice Department accused the senator of acting as an unregistered agent for the government of Egypt. Menendez has denied wrongdoing and refused to resign. Although he is not seeking reelection as a Democrat, he has teased a possible independent run if he is exonerated.

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