Washington Babylon — July 17, 2008, 11:41 am

Russian and Serb Interests Paid for Congressman Weldon’s Family Vacation to Europe

Back in January of 2007, the House Ethics Committee (“Press 1 if you are a member of Congress covering up a criminal offense. Press 2 if…”) released a statement saying that it had reviewed a foreign trip by Congressman Curt Weldon and determined that he had violated the gift-rule ban. Weldon, said the statement–which was signed by Republican Doc Hastings, then the Committee chairman, and Howard Berman, then the ranking Democrat–had traveled abroad in January 2003 with “several” unnamed family members. “Donors,” who were also not identified, picked up the tab for much of the trip, said the committee. The statement also failed to disclose where precisely Weldon & Co. had traveled, but did say that the congressman had been told to reimburse the trip’s financial sponsors for some $23,000 in expenses.

So where did Curt Weldon go? I’ve learned that he traveled to Europe and Russia (stops included Vienna and Moscow) with ten family members and acquaintances. The trip was paid for by three private foreign groups, including a Russian aerospace manufacturer and members of a controversial Serb family who were barred from entering the United States due to their alleged ties to war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. Very soon after the trip the Russian firm and the Serb family retained Karen Weldon, the congressman’s young, politically inexperienced daughter, to be their Washington lobbyist–which led to charges about whether her father was steering business to her, charges that are currently the subject of a federal investigation.

This was all known to the Ethics Committee when it released its statement in January of 2007. As is inevitably the case, the committee opted for covering up for one of its own rather than holding members of Congress accountable.

He simply ignored the committee’s advice and ethics rules and went anyway, with the tab being picked up by outside sponsors

According to the committee’s statement and other evidence I have obtained, prior to traveling Weldon had disclosed his trip and sought a waiver from the gift-rule provisions that at the time permitted a member of Congress to accept “travel and other benefits resulting from outside activities that are unrelated to official duties.” Weldon argued that his trip was unrelated to official duties because the invitation to travel to Eastern Europe (to give a speech) was made on the basis of his membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences–not because he was a member of Congress. Even the typically lame Ethics Committee rejected that argument, recognizing (for obvious reasons we’ll soon see) that the trip was connected to Weldon’s position in the U.S. government. So Weldon, according to the January 2007 statement, “then sought a gift rule waiver from the committee, but withdrew his request prior to receiving a formal written response from the Committee.”

In other words: Weldon apparently didn’t get the answer he wanted, so he simply ignored the committee’s advice and ethics rules and went anyway, with the tab being picked up by outside sponsors.

In January of 2003, the Weldon household headed to Eastern Europe. In addition to the congressman, the travelers included his wife, their three daughters and two sons, one son-in-law, a niece, and two other people whose identities were apparently known to the committee but were not revealed. I’ve learned that those two people were the girlfriend of son Andrew Weldon and the boyfriend of daughter Karen Weldon, who at the time was embarking on a lucrative career as a lobbyist (though a short-lived career, interrupted in October of 2006 by a federal raid on her offices).

So the Weldon clan departed to Moscow, and the Moscow International Petroleum Club, “a non-profit international organization, with membership of over 25 leading Russian, European, and American oil and gas production and service companies committed to doing business in Russia,” picked up the tab of about $12,000 in plane fares and hotel lodging.

By not releasing the statement until months after he had lost his House seat, the committee allowed then-Congressman Weldon to lie

Other stops in Russia included the factory of Saratov Aviation, a company building a flying saucer, whose technology Congressman Weldon was aggressively pushing in Washington. Saratov paid for roughly $4,000 of airfare, which included flights from Moscow to the plant and then from the plant to Belgrade. Soon after this visit, Karen Weldon closed a deal with Saratov to lobby for the firm in Washington.

In Belgrade, the Weldon family stayed at a private residence owned by the Karic family. As I wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2004:

Because of evidence that the Karics had supported Milosevic, the Treasury Department placed them on a list of Serbians banned from doing business in the United States. They all had been removed from the list by last year, as the United States normalized relations with Serbia, but they still cannot get visas.

In a written statement, a spokesman for the Karics said, “Regarding the alleged links of the Karic Group or family to the Milosevic regime, we can only reiterate that these allegations are the product of groups or individuals from our country who have been themselves profiting from ties with the former regime.” Rep. Weldon came to adopt the view that the Karics, whose businesses thrived under Milosevic, were being unfairly portrayed as sympathizers of the former leader.

From Belgrade, the Weldon menagerie traveled to Vienna. The $7,000 in airfare was picked up by the Karic Group. In March 2003, two months after this trip, the Karic Foundation hired Karen Weldon’s firm on a renewable one-year contract, paying $240,000 to help it in “establishing and developing a U.S. presence.”

The Ethics Committee’s limp, pathetic response to this egregiousness came in January 2007–two months after Weldon lost his House seat. Furthermore, Weldon had during the campaign claimed–falsely, as the committee’s statement shows–that he had been fully investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing by the committee. By circling the wagons and failing to release its statement until months after he had lost his House seat, the committee allowed then-Congressman Weldon to lie.

Finally, the committee had determined that it would not take any action over charges that Weldon had steered business to daughter Karen’s firm. But, as is customary, the committee’s investigation was largely limited to reviewing information submitted by Weldon’s own office. Imagine how many convictions we’d get if the police limited their investigations to evidence provided by suspects, yet that’s the way our Congress works.

(This also makes it easy to understand this story from today’s Washington Post, “House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) said yesterday that he would welcome an ethics committee investigation into his fundraising efforts for an academic center that bears his name.” Yes, I can imagine the prospect of a committee investigation doesn’t keep Rangel up at night.)

Weldon’s attorney, William Winning, did not reply to a request for comment about the trip, nor to a question about whether Weldon ever in fact paid back the money. If he does reply, I will update this story immediately.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
Post
Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:

25

After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.

The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today