McALLEN, Texas — A little more than a week after making headlines for having taken a trip paid for by the Azerbaijani government, a Texas border congressman continues to take criticism from all sides claiming “he should have known better.”
As Breitbart Texas previously reported, South Texas Congressman Ruben Hinojosa is one of four Texas politicians out of a total of 10 being investigated for ethics violations in connection with a $750,000 all expense trip to the Caspian Sea secretly paid for by the government of Azerbaijan through their state run oil company SOCAR and a series of non-profit corporation in the US.
In addition to the trip, the politicians are said to have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts in a move that raises the question if the trip was an effort to illegally influence U.S. policy.
The Monitor, the leading newspaper in South Texas, has called out Hinojosa in their most recent editorial piece and demanded answers about what possible value could Azerbaijan relations have for South Texas. They pointed out that Hinojosa and his wife’s airfare were the most expensive of all.
The Monitor states that “a veteran congressman such as Hinojosa must recognize that he places himself and his district in a vulnerable position by allowing any entity to pay his expenses if the trip involved anything but officials business.”
Hinojosa’s trip has drawn criticism from two of his rivals in the upcoming 2016 elections.
“When you have been an elected official for 18 years and you can’t differentiate between right and wrong, it is time to move on. He should have known better.” said Paul Williams, a combat veteran U.S. Marine who is a full-time police officer and a martial arts instructor.
Williams is running against Hinojosa as a Democrat in the party’s primary election.
“He took his wife instead of his staff, to me that is a vacation not an official trip,” Williams said during an interview with Breitbart Texas.”He got thousands of dollars in gifts. How can you look at that and not see something wrong?”
The issue of taking gifts would raise flags in many professions. William’s, who is a police officer in Mission, Texas, said the same standard that law enforcement is held to should apply to Hinojosa and the other 9 politicians. The mere impression of a cop taking a gratuity is enough to warrant reprimands, suspension and full investigation to determine if there is any criminal culpability.
“Ignorance of the law is not an excuse,” he said
Hinojosa’s Republican rival, Former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal, has also voiced out his outrage at the trip and the unanswered questions.
“You are a congressman. You are held to a higher standard by the people you represent,” Villarreal said in an interview with Breitbart Texas. “This is a matter of national security. Have you seen what countries neighbor Azerbaijan? Some of those countries are the same ones that have been at odds with the U.S. and this type of activity raises some serious questions about their effort to influence policy.”
As a veteran congressman Hinojosa should have known that nothing is free and gifts come with a certain expectation of reciprocity, Villarreal said.
“He’s not fooling anyone. Anyone with common sense can see that,” he said.
Breitbart Texas reached out to Hinojosa’s office who sent a prepared statement in regards to the trip:
Prior to the trip to Azerbaijan and Turkey, I sought approval from the U.S. House Committee on Ethics to travel. On May 23, 2013, the Committee approved travel for my spouse and I to visit Azerbaijan and Turkey. I relied upon this written authorization in deciding to travel overseas. I believed the purpose of the trip was to strengthen U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. I received souvenirs of what I believed to be of minimal value and in compliance with the House Gift rule. Almost a year after the trip, I learned that an investigation was being conducted into the funding source of this trip. My staff and I have fully cooperated with the investigation. Importantly, the report notes that there is no evidence to suggest that Members of Congress who went on the trip knew that impermissible sponsors and organizers may have been involved and that Members relied on the sponsors’ representations in good faith. I look forward to this issue being resolved in an expeditious manner and I thank the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Committee on Ethics for their professionalism.