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Rep. Henry Cuellar and his wife allegedly took nearly $600,000 in bribes, indictment says

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Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas and his wife have been charged with accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes from two foreign entities, according to an indictment in federal court in Texas.

The alleged scheme took place from late 2014 through at least November 2021, the indictment says.

The congressman and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, made their initial court appearance on Friday in Houston and were released on a $100,000 bond. They are facing several charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery of a federal official, violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal and money laundering.

In a statement on Friday, Cuellar said: “I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations. Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas.”

Cuellar said in his statement that actions he took in Congress were “in the interest of the American people” and vowed to continue his bid for reelection in November. The congressman also defended his wife, saying that, “The allegation that she is anything but qualified and hard working is both wrong and offensive.”

“The actions I took in Congress were consistent with the actions of many of my colleagues and in the interest of the American people,” Cuellar said.

Prosecutors say that Henry and Imelda Cuellar crafted two yearslong schemes to get bribes from foreign entities – an oil and gas company “wholly owned and controlled by the Government of Azerbaijan, and a bank headquartered in Mexico City.”

In exchange for bribe payments from the Azerbaijan oil company, Cuellar “agreed to perform official acts in his capacity as a Member of Congress, to commit acts in violation of his official duties, and to act as an agent of the Government of Azerbaijan” and the bank, the indictment says.

Among those promises, prosecutors allege Cuellar agreed to influence US policy through a “series of legislative measures relating to Azerbaijan’s conflict with neighboring Armenia,” by giving a pro-Azerbaijani speech on the House floor, inserting language “favored by Azerbaijan” into legislation and committee reports, and advocating for “series of legislative measures relating to Azerbaijan’s conflict with neighboring Armenia.”

The Texas Democrat also allegedly promised to influence financial regulations in a way that would benefit the Mexican bank and its affiliates, including by working to pressure the Executive Branch on anti-money laundering enforcement practices that “threatened” their business interest and supporting revisions to the criminal money-laundering statutes.

The couple received the bribe payments through shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar, prosecutors say. They allegedly used the proceeds from the bribery schemes to pay taxes, pay down debt and spend tens of thousands of dollars at restaurants and retail stores. One purchase was for a $12,000 custom gown, according to the indictment.

Cuellar’s home and campaign office in Laredo, Texas, were raided by the FBI in 2022. The charges against Cuellar are not yet publicly available.

A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries released a statement shortly after Cuellar’s charges were reported, saying that the congressman is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But, spokesperson Christie Stephenson said, Cuellar will temporarily step down from his top spot on a House Appropriations Subcommittee while the investigation is ongoing.

“Henry Cuellar has admirably devoted his career to public service and is a valued Member of the House Democratic Caucus. Like any American, Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process,” Stephenson said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee swiftly called on Cuellar to resign.

“If his colleagues truly believe in putting ‘people over politics,’ they will call on him to resign. If not — they are hypocrites whose statements about public service aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” Delanie Bomar, a spokesperson for the NRCC, said in a statement.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that a spokesperson for Hakeem Jeffries released a statement following news of Cuellar’s charges. This story and headline have also been updated with additional developments.


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Rep. Henry Cuellar accused of taking bribes from Azerbaijan, Mexican bank

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Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) and his wife allegedly accepted $600,000 in bribes from an oil company controlled by the Azerbaijan government and a bank headquartered in Mexico, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Texas on Friday.

The 68-year-old congressman and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, are accused of setting up front companies that entered into sham contracts with the bank and the Azerbaijan government, the indictment said. Through their lawyer, they denied wrongdoing.


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@thehill: Rep. Dean Phillips became the first Democrat to call for Rep. Henry Cuellar to resign in light of the Justice Department indictment he and his wife were hit with on Friday. trib.al/QEBKZPr

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Rep. Dean Phillips became the first Democrat to call for Rep. Henry Cuellar to resign in light of the Justice Department indictment he and his wife were hit with on Friday. https://t.co/bXyzdfcSCi

— The Hill (@thehill) May 4, 2024


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NYC health department warns of spike in mpox cases – MSN

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NYC health department warns of spike in mpox cases  MSN

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Hope Hicks ‘drops a bomb’ during Trump trial: ‘Nail in the coffin moment’ – MSNBC

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The post Hope Hicks ‘drops a bomb’ during Trump trial: ‘Nail in the coffin moment’ – MSNBC first appeared on Trump And Trumpism – The News And Times.


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Chechen warlord, Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov seriously ill — feared poisoned

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The warlord leader of Chechnya, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main cronies, is reportedly gravely ill with kidney problems, sparking fears that he was poisoned.

Ramzan Kadyrov brought the United Arab Emirate’s chief nephrologist, or kidney specialist, to Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, for treatment, Kazakh journalist Azamat Maytanov reported.

Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic since 2007, opted for a doctor from outside of the region over concerns that he was poisoned and therefore does not trust Moscow doctors.

“Kadrov is allegedly very bad and has serious kidney problems,” Maytanov wrote.

“Kadyrov is ill and has already become a drug addict,” he continued, citing Akhmed Zakayev, the now-exiled former prime minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria . “He claims that some kind of energy pills previously supported the overactivity of the head of Chechnya.”

Kadyrov is reportedly seriously ill.Kadyrov is reportedly seriously ill. Social media/EAST2WEST NEWS

Kadyrov has been a vocal ally to Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Pennisula in 2014 and has championed Putin’s cause in the year since the full-scale invasion began.

In September, he called for Russia to use low-yield nuclear weapons against Ukraine and Putin promoted him to Colonel General in the National Guard of Russia the following month, the Kyiv Independent reported. In October, he referred to the was as a “Big Jihad.”

Ramzan Kadyrov has backed Putin since Russia's invasion of the Crimean Peninsula.Ramzan Kadyrov has backed Putin since Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. Kremlin/east2west news

The rumors that Kadyrov was poisoned comes after he said that one of his top generals was poisoned by an envelope last month.

Kadyrov wrote on Telegram that Apti Alaudinov, who leads the Akhmat special forces, was poisoned with a strongly scented letter on Feb. 8, Newsweek reported.

The Chechen warlord called the incident an “assassination attempt.” Alaudinov has since recovered.


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Russia Slides Into Civil War

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Is Putin facing his Czar Nicholas II moment?

A black-and-white image shoes Wagner mercenaries walking next to a tank on a street in Rostov-on-Don.

The Wagner Group claimed control of Rostov-on-Don early Saturday morning. (Reuters)

Updated at 6:58 p.m. ET on June 24, 2023

The hall of mirrors that Vladimir Putin has built around himself and within his country is so complex, and so multilayered, that on the eve of a genuine insurrection in Russia, I doubt very much if the Russian president himself believed it could be real.

Certainly the rest of us still can’t know, less than a day after this mutiny began, the true motives of the key players, and especially not of the central figure, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group. Prigozhin, whose fighters have taken part in brutal conflicts all over Africa and the Middle East—in Syria, Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic—claims to command 25,000 men in Ukraine. In a statement yesterday afternoon, he accused the Russian army of killing “an enormous amount” of his mercenaries in a bombing raid on his base. Then he called for an armed rebellion, vowing to topple Russian military leaders.

Prigozhin has been lobbing insults at Russia’s military leadership for many weeks, mocking Sergei Shoigu, the Russian minister of defense, as lazy, and describing Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, as prone to “paranoid tantrums.” Yesterday, he broke with the official narrative and directly blamed them, and their oligarch friends, for launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Ukraine did not provoke Russia on February 24, he said: Instead, Russian elites had been pillaging the territories of the Donbas they’ve occupied since 2014, and became greedy for more. His message was clear: The Russian military launched a pointless war, ran it incompetently, and killed tens of thousands of Russian soldiers unnecessarily.

The “evil brought by the military leadership of the country must be stopped,” Prigozhin declared. He warned the Russian generals not to resist: “Everyone who will try to resist, we will consider them a danger and destroy them immediately, including any checkpoints on our way. And any aviation we see above our heads.” The snarling theatricality of Prigozhin’s statement, the baroque language, the very notion that 25,000 mercenaries were going to remove the commanders of the Russian army during an active war—all of that immediately led many to ask: Is this for real?

Up until the moment it started, when actual Wagner vehicles were spotted on the road from Ukraine to Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city a couple of miles from the border (and actual Wagner soldiers were spotted buying coffee in a Rostov-on-Don fast-food restaurant formerly known as McDonald’s), it seemed impossible. But once they appeared in the city—once Prigozhin posted a video of himself in the courtyard of the Southern Military District headquarters in Rostov-on-Don—and once they seemed poised to take control of Voronezh, a city between Rostov-on-Don and Moscow, theories began to multiply.

Read: A crisis erupts in Russia

Maybe Prigozhin is collaborating with the Ukrainians, and this is all an elaborate plot to end the war. Maybe the Russian army really had been trying to put an end to Prigozhin’s operations, depriving his soldiers of weapons and ammunition. Maybe this is Prigozhin’s way of fighting not just for his job but for his life. Maybe Prigozhin, a convicted thief who lives by the moral code of Russia’s professional criminal caste, just feels dissed by the Russian military leadership and wants respect. And maybe, just maybe, he has good reason to believe that some Russian soldiers are willing to join him.

Because Russia no longer has anything resembling “mainstream media”—there is only state propaganda, plus some media in exile—we have no good sources of information right now. All of us now live in a world of information chaos, but this is a more profound sort of vacuum, because so many people are pretending to say things they don’t believe. To understand what is going on (or to guess at it), you have to follow a series of unreliable Russian Telegram accounts, or else read the Western and Ukrainian open-source intelligence bloggers who are reliable but farther from the action: @wartranslated, who captions Russian and Ukrainian video in English, for example; or Aric Toler (@arictoler), of Bellingcat, and Christo Grozev (@christogrozev), formerly of Bellingcat, the investigative group that pioneered the use of open-source intelligence. Grozev has enhanced credibility because he said the Wagner group was preparing a coup many months ago. (This morning, I spoke with him and told him he was vindicated. “Yes,” he said, “I am.”)

But the Kremlin may not have very good information either. Only a month ago, Putin was praising Prigozhin and Wagner for the “liberation” of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, after one of the longest, most drawn-out battles in modern military history. Today’s insurrection was, by contrast, better planned and executed: Bakhmut took nearly 11 months, but Prigozihin got to Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh in less than 11 hours, helped along by commanders and soldiers who appeared to be waiting for him to arrive.

Now military vehicles are moving around Moscow, apparently putting into force “Operation Fortress,” a plan to defend the headquarters of the security services. One Russian military blogger claimed that units of the military, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB security service, and others had already been put on a counterterrorism alert in Moscow very early Thursday morning, supposedly in preparation for a Ukrainian terrorist attack. Perhaps that was what the Kremlin wanted its supporters to think—though the source of the blogger’s claim is not yet clear.

But the unavoidable clashes at play—Putin’s clash with reality, as well as Putin’s clash with Prigozhin—are now coming to a head. Prigozhin has demanded that Shoigu, the defense minister, come to see him in Rostov-on-Don, which the Wagner boss must know is impossible. Putin has responded by denouncing Prigozhin, though not by name: “Exorbitant ambitions and personal interests have led to treason,” Putin said in an address to the nation this morning. A Telegram channel that is believed to represent Wagner has responded: “Soon we will have a new president.” Whether or not that account is really Wagner, some Russian security leaders are acting as if it is, and are declaring their loyalty to Putin. In a slow, unfocused sort of way, Russia is sliding into what can only be described as a civil war.

Read: Russia’s rogue commander is playing with fire

If you are surprised, maybe you shouldn’t be. For months—years, really—Putin has blamed all of his country’s troubles on outsiders: America, Europe, NATO. He concealed the weaknesses of his country and its army behind a facade of bluster, arrogance, and appeals to a phony “white Christian nationalism” for foreign audiences, and appeals to imperialist patriotism for domestic consumption. Now he is facing a movement that lives according to the true values of the modern Russian military, and indeed of modern Russia.

Prigozhin is cynical, brutal, and violent. He and his men are motivated by money and self-interest. They are angry at the corruption of the top brass, the bad equipment provided to them, the incredible number of lives wasted. They aren’t Christian, and they don’t care about Peter the Great. Prigozhin is offering them a psychologically comfortable explanation for their current predicament: They failed to defeat Ukraine because they were betrayed by their leaders.

There are some precedents for this moment. In 1905, the Russian fleet’s disastrous performance in a war with Japan helped inspire a failed revolution. In 1917, angry soldiers came home from World War I and launched another, more famous revolution. Putin alluded to that moment in his brief television appearance this morning. At that moment, he said, “arguments behind the army’s back turned out to be the greatest catastrophe, [leading to] destruction of the army and the state, loss of huge territories, resulting in a tragedy and a civil war.” What he did not mention was that up until the moment he left power, Czar Nicholas II was having tea with his wife, writing banal notes in his diary, and imagining that the ordinary Russian peasants loved him and would always take his side. He was wrong.

This article originally identified the Russian city the Wagner Group entered as Rostov, not Rostov-on-Don.

Anne Applebaum is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

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