Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)’s longtime executive assistant was listed as being part of a “spouse group” and photographed participating in recreational events for senators’ spouses on a taxpayer-funded trip in 2004 to South America.
In captions to photos posted online by the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay, Webber was listed by name as part of a spouse group touring local sites and dining together. Other aides on the trip, including another female aide, are not listed in the photographs as participating in the events.
The newly surfaced photos undermine the account of Cochran’s campaign that Webber attended the trip in a strictly professional capacity.
Facing questions about Webber’s attendance on dozens of overseas trips, Cochran’s campaign has said Webber, who began working for Cochran in 1981, plays a crucial and senior role in the office. The campaign even called questions about the trips “sexist.”
Senators routinely bring their spouses on the trips, called “CODELs” in Capitol Hill parlance, and their presence often results in separate agendas for the senators and their spouses. Typically, aides participate in official events attended by senators while spouses engage in more recreational activity.
A full agenda of the trip, including what tasks Webber performed for Cochran, is unavailable. Cochran’s campaign declined to comment.
The photographs are from a 2004 trip that Cochran took to Uruguay alongside former Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Mike DeWine (R-OH), and Sens. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Pat Leahy (D-VT). Other countries the delegation visited during the trip include Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.
Webber is seen in one photograph posing with the wives of Sens. De Wine, Leahy, and Roberts, the wife of then U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay Martin Silverstein and the wife of the Mission’s then-deputy chief James Williard.
“Spouse group at Hotel Las cumbres Restaurant in Punta. From left: Renee Savastuk, Community Liaison Office Coordinator of the U.S. Embassy, Mrs. Silverstein, Las Cumbres owner Roberto Mulieri, Mrs. DeWine, Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. Webber, Mrs. Leahy and Mrs. Williard, wife of James Williard, Deputy Chief of Mission,” the caption says.
“Mrs. Audrey Silverstein leads group of spouses on tour of Parque de la Percepcion in Punta del Este,” a second caption says.
The embassy’s website noted that Cochran led this delegation, and they met with Uruguayan president Jorge Battle, “Agriculture Minister Aguirrezabala” and “Deputy Foreign Minister Valles,” and others. A second congressional delegation led by then-House Speaker Denny Hastert joined them in Uruguay for dinner.
“They joined a second Congressional delegation, led by House of Representatives Speaker Hastert for a dinner reception at Ambassador Martin J. Silverstein’s residence,” the website reads. “Numerous other Uruguayan political and business leaders attended the dinner.”
On the trip, the group met with participants in a federally-funded fellowship program named after Cochran.
“Senator Cochran also had the opportunity to greet Uruguayan scholars who participated in the Cochran Fellowship Program, a program that began its inception in 1984 under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),” the embassy website reads. “Cochran Fellows were able to share their learning experiences with Sen. Cochran first-hand.”
Cochran’s spokesman, Jordan Russell, recently told Breitbart News Webber responds to constituent requests, helps Cochran maintain his schedule, coordinates travel, staffs his Capitol office, periodically organizes events for constituents and groups of Senators, and participates on conference calls with other senior aides to offer strategic advice.
“Ms. Webber is a senior member of Senator Cochran’s staff with more than three decades of experience on Capitol Hill. It is appropriate for a senior member of the Senator’s staff with her Congressional experience to accompany him on these trips,” Russell said.
At that time, Russell added: “Senator Cochran makes these trips in his role as a senior member of important committees such as the Defense Appropriation Subcommittee and the Agriculture Committee. Senator Cochran, like other members of the House and Senate, receive on-the-ground information during these trips that assist the Senator when making important legislative decisions.”
Russell declined to comment for this story.