Former President Trump and the Democratic House Caucus both came to the defense of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who was indicted for allegedly taking bribes to benefit a Mexican bank and the Azerbaijan government. 

While Trump and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., both nodded to Cuellar’s respectable reputation, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee went a step further, accusing President Biden of using the Justice Department to retaliate against the Democratic congressman for demanding tougher border security policies – stepping outside the party line. 

Aguilar, meanwhile, praised Cuellar’s record of having “deep relationships with Republican colleagues and Democratic colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” arguing that while the allegations against him are “very serious,” they are also “very different” from the indictments faced by former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. 

At Tuesday’s leadership press conference, Aguilar was asked why he and other Democratic colleagues had not called on Cuellar to resign or be expelled from Congress as they had done after Santos was indicted by the Justice Department on fraud, identity theft, falsification of records, credit card fraud and other charges. Santos was ultimately expelled after just one year in Congress following a scathing House ethics report. 


Henry Cuellar in Capitol hallway surrounded by press

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, was indictment in connection to alleged bribery schemes to benefit a Mexican bank and the government of Azerbaijan. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“This is an incredibly serious issue. It’s not lost on House Democrats how serious this is. Representative Cuellar has done the right thing in stepping down from his committees, stepping down from his position as chief deputy whip and ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee,” Aguilar said. “He’s entitled to make his defense. He is entitled to the presumption of innocence. We look forward to that process playing out. And just like every American is entitled to that presumption, I think that’s the overwhelming feeling of House Democrats at this point.” 

In a Truth Social post days earlier, Trump addressed the indictment against Cuellar, whose district sits along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Biden just Indicted Henry Cuellar because the Respected Democrat Congressman wouldn’t play Crooked Joe’s Open Border game,” Trump claimed Sunday. “He was for Border Control, so they said, ‘Let’s use the FBI and DOJ to take him out!’ This is the way they operate. They’re a bunch of D.C. Thugs, and at some point they will be paying a very big price for what they have done to our Country.” 


In a federal indictment unsealed in the Southern District of Texas on Friday, Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, were charged with accepting approximately $600,000 from Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company and a Mexican bank in exchange for official acts as a member of Congress in two schemes involving bribery, unlawful foreign influence and money laundering. 

The bribe payments were allegedly laundered, pursuant to sham consulting contracts, through a series of front companies and middlemen into shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar, “who performed little to no legitimate work under the contracts,” the Justice Department said. The schemes were said to have been carried out from at least December 2014 through at least November 2021. 

In exchange for the bribes paid by the Azerbaijani oil and gas company, Rep. Cuellar allegedly agreed to use his office to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan, according to court documents. Rep. Cuellar also allegedly agreed to influence legislative activity and “to advise and pressure high-ranking U.S. Executive Branch officials regarding measures beneficial” to the Mexican bank. 

Trump fist pumps in front of Manhattan courthouse

Former President Trump outside his hush-money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 7, 2024 in New York City. Trump claimed President Biden was targeting Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, over his border stance. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The indictment centers around Banco Azteca, owned by one of Mexico’s richest men, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing an unnamed U.S. official. Federal prosecutors allege the Mexican bank funneled $238,000 in bribes disguised as consulting fees to Cuellar, according to the newspaper. 


Cuellar and his wife both pleaded not guilty in federal court in Houston on Friday and were each released on an unsecured $100,000 bond.

Aguilar on Tuesday slammed the “silliness of George Santos” when further pressed by reporters about the difference in Democratic response to Cuellar’s indictment.  

The Democratic House Caucus chair said he read the indictment against Cuellar and said the “incredibly serious allegations” are treated with the “utmost respect” by the Democratic caucus. 

Aguilar outside Capitol building

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., pictured here, defended Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, in the wake of an indictment on bribery charges unsealed in federal court last week. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

“He’s entitled to that presumption of innocence, as any American would. I have not talked with Representative Cuellar since the indictment came out,” Aguilar said. “But that said, you know, I will say that Representative Cuellar has been for decades, he’s been a legislator. He’s been a statewide officeholder in Texas. He has deep relationships with Republican colleagues and Democratic colleagues on both sides of the aisle. We know that he is a serious, you know, public official and public servant. And I think that’s what sets this apart from other issues and the silliness of George Santos that we had in the past. And I think that’s why many of us are treating this a little different. The substance of the allegations is very different, but the individuals are also night and day.” 

When asked about Menendez, Aguilar pointed to how the indictments against the longtime New Jersey senator included photos supporting the DOJ’s allegations that he allegedly accepted bribes to benefit the Egyptian government, including images depicting gold bars, a luxury vehicle and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash that prosecutors say was sewn into jackets or otherwise found during an FBI search of Menendez’s home. 

“The substance of these allegations is very different,” Aguilar said. “I made some comments on that indictment, and I hold true to those, I think that these are very different. There were some, you know, pictures and there were some things that were very different with respect to the allegations. So he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. And I would say that these allegations from all three individuals are very different.” 


In a statement released last week, House Democratic Caucus Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., also defended how Cuellar “has admirably devoted his career to public service.” 

“Like any American, Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process. Pursuant to House Democratic Caucus Rule 24, Congressman Cuellar will take leave as Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee while this matter is ongoing,” Jeffries said. 

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