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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Danny Davis Cleared: Gulenists, Not So Much

Danny Davis and others have been cleared of wrongdoing by the House Ethics Committee for the Gulen-arranged lobbying orgy that took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2013.

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee said Friday it found no evidence of wrongdoing by a bipartisan group of lawmakers who went on a 2013 trip to Azerbaijan paid for by that country’s government.

It seems like a legitimate ruling to me, at least on the superficial level. The lawmakers all cleared the trip through House ethics office; it wasn't until later that it became apparent that it was an illegal arrangement between the Azerbaijani government and the Gulen-linked individuals in Texas. The lawmakers probably should have known better, and they definitely broke some gift rules during the trip, but they aren't responsible for the trip's underlying illegality, which evidently got past the ethics office in the first place.

In fact, the only person in the entire 28-page report coming off as having something to hide is the former executive director of Chicago's Niagara Foundation, Kemal Oksuz, who set up a similar shop in Texas after leaving the Chicago-based organization.  He took his 5th Amendment right rather than testify:

Mr. Oksuz clammed up sometime after the the story leaked in the press, and the committee blasted the Post for it.
As such, the unauthorized disclosure of the material to The Washington Post impeded the Committee's ongoing investigation, and prevented it from gathering information critical to its investigation. 
I myself find that line of reasoning a bit suspicious; the Houston Chronicle broke the story almost a year earlier, and Mr. Oksuz surely reads the Texas papers. He was probably never going to comply with the subpoenas. Indeed, he had already started to clam up in 2014.
Via email, Oksuz answered a few basic questions, but then repeatedly delayed and canceled interviews requested by the Chronicle. He did not respond to requests to provide updated financial records that his nonprofit must disclose under state and federal laws.
The Committee's anger at The Post seems a little bit like an excuse to stop investigating, the more I think about it. Why?

Because the Ethics Committee also appears to have taken a dive on this question: what did Azerbaijan get for their efforts?

Here's what the committee says in the report:


But even as early as 2014, the Chronicle people were able to connect the dots between the illegal junket and an exemption for a huge Azerbaijani gas project from the Iran sanctions--- the sanctions currently in the news.


So, it's going to be a permanent mystery. The Azerbaijanis got their gas project exempted from the complex Iran sanctions; the Gulenists got some cash* and Azerbaijani street cred for setting the whole thing up, and Danny Davis got a rug. And everyone got to party in Baku, and many also in Turkey, and that's how American laws are written.

It's really sort of amazing that the Ethics Committee dodged the question of the sanctions exemption when it's so central to the story. It's as if nobody in Congress can actually say who wrote the exemption into the law; it just appeared one day! Very fishy. The black eye the Gulenists received in this report will eventually heal; the thing that matters (for them) is that the Azerbaijanis and the Gulenists were successful; they got what they wanted, and the Committee isn't even going to look at question of the Iran sanctions, the Azerbaijani exemption, and who's inserting whole clauses into US law.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is starting its show-trial of imprisoned journalist Khadija Ismayilova. It is a country where the government has no pretense of democratic values. And in the US, the Gulenists are the Azerbaijani's go-to guys for illegal lobbying, at least they were back in 2013. If it surprises you that an "interfaith" group could be involved with the illegal dealings of a corrupt and brutal dictatorship, then you haven't been paying attention.

Birds of a feather flock together, as they say.

The Gulenists, it seems to me, have dodged a bullet here. I don't see how a criminal prosecution moves forward after a report like this, although the door is open.
Despite these limitations, the Committee's investigation uncovered evidence of concerted, possibly criminal, efforts by various non-House individuals and entities to mislead the House travelers and the Committee about the Trips' true sponsors and the funding sources used to pay for Member and House employee travel to Azerbaijan
 In Texas, Gulen-linked organizations run at least forty-five charter schools; they run four in Chicago. The schools are a huge part of the Gulen Movement's revenue stream. I point that out to remind people about the scale of the operation and that it's basically funded by U.S. taxpayers.

It isn't clear to me about Mr. Oksuz's current dealings in Illinois; he seems to have been focused in Texas and Louisiana** lately, after leaving Niagara. When you study the Movement, you see a lot of transferring around from one node to another. That they keep getting guests in the door at Niagara is in my mind a huge testament to the basic incuriousness of people; you don't have to dig very deep to see that what's going on underneath the interfaith veneer is part of a complex and sometimes ruthless influence agenda. People like to look the other way.

*Even the cash part is murky. If you read the report (p. 21), there's some highly strange discrepancies in the invoices. The only thing clear is that whatever ballet is going on with the numbers, Mr. Oksuz was the one doing the choreography.

H/t Sharon Higgins.

Update: It will come as no surprise that five minutes of digging produces even more intrigue. I've only just started looking, but I've already found two members of the Ethics Committee, including the Ranking Member, who've been junketed by related Gulenist organizations. I don't know if these folks recused themselves or not, but it looks to me like the Gulenists got to the Ethics Committee long before this investigation, and that might be related to why it shut down without looking at the real questions. More tomorrow.

Actually, Yvette Clarke (D-NY) recused herself. The report is a bit vague as to why, but I'll tell you why. She was on the junket!   The others were on earlier junkets. Like I say, more tomorrow.

**Seriously, look how aggressive Kemal Oksuz has been with the charter schools in Louisiana. It's because they're a cash cow, and it all feeds the Movement.




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