Albuquerque Journal

Lujan Grisham excursion to Azerbaijan not so excellent


Michelle’s excellent adventure even included a carpet. But it didn’t turn out to be magic.

In the spring of 2013, 10 members of Congress, including New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, went to Azerbaijan on a trip secretly paid for by that nation’s state-owned oil company, SOCAR, according to a report by The Washington Post. The report was based on a House ethics panel investigat­ion.

The trip included Republican­s and Democrats, proving once again that “free” is an excellent incentive for bipartisan­ship.

Lujan Grisham and some of her colleagues received Azerbaijan­i rugs and other valuables as gifts but didn’t report them when they got home. House ethics rules prohibit members of Congress from accepting gifts from “an agent or a foreign principal” but appear to allow gifts valued up to $350 from a foreign government “as a souvenir or mark of courtesy.” The rules say any gifts worth more than $350 must be disclosed.

Oops. Handwoven carpets from that part of the world can be very pricey. The report says the rugs were valued at $2,500 to $10,000.

Maybe it’s a matter of taste. Lujan Grisham told ethics investigat­ors she didn’t disclose the gifts under the rules “because she did not think they were particular­ly valuable. She also thought that they were unattracti­ve,” according to the Post report. Perhaps there is no accounting for taste, but in any case Lujan Grisham’s staff refused to provide an image of the rug.

Double oops. Complainin­g about a gift you accepted that is one of that nation’s sources of cultural pride isn’t likely to further foreign relations with the Central Asian country. Especially if you believe, as Lujan Grisham stated, that, along with nearby Turkey, the two countries are “critical allies” and “key friends for the U.S.”

Speaking of Turkey, Lujan Grisham and several other colleagues also took a side trip there — paid for by a Turkish nonprofit.

In addition to SOCAR, BP, Conoco-Phillips and KBR also helped to underwrite the costs of a conference the members of Congress attended while in Azerbaijan, estimated at $1.5 million. Those costs included $100,000 for hotel accommodat­ions, $75,000 for food and entertainm­ent, and $1.2 million for travel and other expenses.

Lujan Grisham took her fiance, Manuel Cordova, on the all-expenses-paid trip but paid $4,980 for his flights.

Lujan Grisham says she sought and got approval for the bipartisan junket from the House Ethics Committee — permission granted on the premise that it would be paid for by two Houston-based nonprofit corporatio­ns. But the report says SOCAR, the state oil company, secretly provided $750,000 to the groups to cover travel and other expenses for the lawmakers and 32 of their staffers.

And even if approved, when 10 members of Congress can go on a trip on the dime of a foreign oil company and no one really knows where the money comes from, that’s a problem.

And as for the not-so-magic carpet, well that was bad judgment — and maybe bad taste.

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