SAN ANTONIO — A week after FBI agents were inside U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar's Laredo home, reportedly in connection with an ongoing investigation into possible crimes related to American businessmen and Azerbaijan, the Democratic legislator said he was confident the probe "will show that there was no wrongdoing on my part."
Cuellar, who has represented Texas's 28th Congressional District since 2005 and is running for re-election this year, recorded the statement in front of his childhood residence and released it via his campaign's official Twitter account. In it, he thanked supporters and emphasized that he's cooperating with law enforcement.
"This is my home, my community and why I got into politics," he said in the video statement. "Nothing can distract me from being laser-focused on getting the job done for you and for south Texas the way I always have."
Agents took boxes and a computer from the south Texas congressman's home and office, reportedly collecting evidence for a grand jury impaneled in Washington, D.C.
Cuellar, considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, co-chairs the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.
The oil-rich country, once a member of the Soviet Union, is known for its "caviar diplomacy." As a lobbying strategy, local business leaders and politicians often host foreign diplomats on the Azerbaijan dime.
Campaign finance reports indicate Cuellar has taken $3,500 from a man who broke U.S. ethics laws related to a 2013 congressional trip to the country.
Kemal Oksuz admitted to funneling money from an oil company wholly owned by the Azerbaijan government into his non-profit, which paid for the congressional trip in 2013. He then falsely told the ethics committee a foreign government did not fund the trip.
Cuellar was not on the visit that got Oksuz in trouble, but the congressman flew with Oksuz to Azerbaijan four months earlier with the ethics committee's blessing, according to The Intercept.
The congressman has also forged a relationship with Azerbaijan's ambassador, Elin Suleymanov. The two spoke in San Antonio at the University of the Incarnate Word in 2014.
"This is a really big deal," said Ryan Patrick, who served as U.S. Attorney for Texas's southern district from 2018 to 2021.
Patrick and two other former federal prosecutors also appointed by former President Donald Trump tell KENS 5 it's possible U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland personally approved the raid at Cuellar's home.
"It's very likely that whoever is in charge of this investigation consulted with the very highest offices in the Department of Justice," said John Bash, who served as U.S. Attorney for Texas's western district from 2017 to 2020.
The raid comes just four weeks before early voting begins in Texas. Cuellar faces a former staffer, Jessica Cisneros, in a race that's expected to be close.