- Two Democratic congressmen took an all-expenses trip paid for by the government of Qatar but failed to report it on mandatory ethics disclosures.
- Qatar has a reputation for bribery and has interests before key committees the congressmen chair.
- Rep. Donald Norcross is now facing an ethics complaint, while Rep. Jim Himes has refused to address the incident.
- The ethics disclosures are designed to prevent foreign meddling and conflicts of interest.
A Democratic congressman is facing an ethics complaint charging that he illegally hid an all-expenses paid trip paid for by a foreign country with interests before his committee.
Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey took a trip funded by the government of Qatar, an oil-rich monarchy in the Middle East, in December 2018 but did not report it on annual ethics disclosures required by law of all congressmen, which are designed to prevent conflicts of interest and foreign meddling, the complaint says.
Norcross is on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs its Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. Qatar has major military interests.
Qatar has repeatedly been accused of bribery on the international stage, most famously in relation to the 2022 World Cup.
“Qatar is the site of Al Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East which hosts approximately 10,000 U.S. service personnel. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, it is of particular importance to understand financial ties that Representative Norcross has with foreign governments, especially as it impacts the men and women serving our nation in the Persian Gulf and around the world,” the complaint says. “Norcross has obscured any potential conflicts that he may have regarding his own finances, knowledge that is important to the national security of the United States.”
The Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust, a nonprofit government ethics watchdog that leans conservative but has routinely slammed members of both parties when they fail to comply with rules and laws, submitted the complaint Thursday to the Office of Congressional Ethics.
“Federal law prohibits members from knowingly and willfully failing to report the requisite information on their financial disclosures,” the complaint says, saying violations come with “penalties of up to $50,000 and imprisonment of not more than one year.”
“Members must file a financial disclosure, including ‘[t]he identity of the source, a brief description, and the value of all gifts aggregating more than the minimal value,'” the complaint says. “By omitting this disclosure, Representative Norcross has concealed gifts or reimbursements he received from a foreign government.”
The complaint cites reporting by the Daily Caller News Foundation, which reported the failure of two members to disclose the trips on June 21.
In that story — despite Democrats’ expressed concern about foreign influence in our politics — Norcross’ spokeswoman Ally Kehoe stated, “My office is aware of this oversight and we will be filing an amendment.”
The second congressman who failed to disclose the trip holds an even more sensitive position that is of interest to the Qatari regime.
Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes is on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and is chair of its Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research Subcommittee.
His office has ignored questions about his failure to disclose the trip.
Qatar is a nation that is frequently considered to have a culture of bribery in order to get special treatment and a desire to influence other countries.
A supervisor at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City pleaded guilty on June 21 to taking bribes from Qatar so it could park its plane there overnight in violation of rules while it attended a United Nations convention.
Documents show Qatar secretly offered hundreds of millions of dollars to World Cup officials before they made the surprise decision to award the 2022 soccer games to the tiny desert kingdom, Britain’s Sunday Times reported in March. A witness told a court in 2017 that a FIFA official took at least $1 million to vote to give the games to the country. (RELATED: Pakistan May Release Corrupt Former Prime Minister From Prison To Get His $1 Billion, Lawyer Says)
A Qatari media executive was also charged with bribery in March in France for allegedly scheming to bring the World Track and Field Championships to Qatar.
The foreign nation has also poured hundreds of millions of dollars into American universities, think tanks and other centers of influence. Qatar’s university largesse is a subject of a Department of Education investigation.
It has also allegedly used its state-owned international media networks, Al Jazeera and AJ+, to influence the politics of other countries. (RELATED: Shallow State: How Congress Protects Its Own)
The Office of Congressional Ethics is run by non-congressmen and reviews complaints and then publicly forwards ones it substantiates to the House Ethics Committee, which is comprised of congressmen. But the bodies, in particular the Ethics Committee, have a reputation for not acting on cases even when wrongdoing is clear.
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