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Rep. Davis cleared by House panel over 2013 Azerbaijan trip

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee on Friday found Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and 41 others who took a controversial May 2013 trip to Azerbaijan did not “knowingly” violate House rules.

However, a “number” of trip sponsors lied or withheld information about who really paid for the travel, the panel concluded in a report released Friday.

The committee is asking the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation of the “purported sponsors” of the trips after its probe turned up “additional evidence of criminal activity” — but not by anyone connected to the House of Representatives.

“Because the House travelers acted in good faith, and the evidence was inconclusive as to the true source of funds for the travel, the Committee concluded that the trips did not constitute an impermissible gift of travel, and decided that no further action is required regarding the House travelers’ acceptance of any trip expenses,” the committee said in a statement.

The 10 House members and 32 House staffers — who all had pre-approval for the travel from the Ethics Committee — did not know, the panel found, the “true source” of the funding for travel connected to the conference, titled U.S.-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future.”

“Indeed, even following an extensive investigation, the Committee could not establish the actual source of funding for the travel expenses,” the report said.

Davis went on the trip with his wife, Vera.

Davis disclosed that their trip was paid for by a group based in northwest suburban Mount Prospect — the Turkish American Federation of Midwest, which now calls itself the Turkic American Federation of Midwest.

Davis said the travel costs were $11,702 for himself and $11,702 for his wife.

In May, the Washington Post reported that the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, known as SOCAR, allegedly funneled $750,000 into non-profits to get around the law that House members cannot accept travel from foreign governments.

The Post based its story on a 70-page investigative report by the independent non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics.

Typically, the OCE investigative reports are also made public at this stage by the Ethics Committee.

In this matter, however, the panel declined to do so — perhaps picking a fight with the OCE because the panel asked the OCE to stop investigating the travel earlier this year.

The OCE forwarded its findings to the ethics panel — which the committee said in its report it had “no authority” to do.

Members can’t take gifts from a foreign government worth more than $350.

Davis, who received a rug as a gift while on the trip, was also cleared of any wrongdoing for taking it in part because it was impossible, the ethics panel said in its report, to determine if there was any violation of the gift rule without knowing “the true identity of the donor.”

Davis said in June the rug will be donated to the Sankofa Safe Child Initiative, 401 N. Central Park Ave.