Lawyers discuss role classified documents may play in bribery case against US Rep Cuellar of Texas

HOUSTON (AP) — Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Thursday discussed whether classified documents might play a role in the planned trial of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who is facing federal bribery and conspiracy charges over accusations he accepted nearly $600,000 in bribes from an Azerbaijan-controlled energy company and a bank in Mexico.

During the hearing in a Houston federal courtroom, prosecutors declined to discuss publicly any information related to what type of classified documents might be part of the case. But Garrett Coyle, a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, said authorities didn’t anticipate disclosing any classified material to the defense.

“Congressman Cuellar could have access to classified information,” Coyle said.

Chris Flood, one of Cuellar’s attorneys, said the defense currently does not have access to any classified material and because prosecutors have not yet begun to disclose to the defense what evidence they have in the case, he is not sure if any such material will play a role in his defense.

“I would love a better understanding of how much classified material they anticipate,” Flood said.

If any classified material becomes a part of the evidence in the case, its use would have to be reviewed by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, who will preside over Cuellar’s trial

Federal authorities have charged Cuellar, 68, and his wife Imelda Cuellar, 67, with accepting money from 2014 to 2021 in exchange for the congressman advancing the interests of the former Soviet republic and the Mexican bank in the U.S. He says they are innocent.

Cuellar and his wife appeared at Thursday’s hearing via Zoom. They did not speak during the hearing.

Since Cuellar’s indictment last month, three people have pleaded guilty in connection with the case: Colin Strother, one of Cuellar’s top former aides; Florencia Roden, a Texas political and business consultant; and Irada Akhoundova, who was director of a Texas affiliate of an Azerbaijan energy company.

During Thursday’s court hearing, Flood asked Rosenthal to schedule the trial for Cuellar and his wife for the fall of 2025.

Rosenthal said that was too far off and instead ordered that jury selection in the trial be scheduled to begin on March 31, 2025.

Prosecutors said their case could take four to five weeks to present to a jury.

According to the indictments against the Cuellars, the Azerbaijan energy company initially made the payments through a Texas-based shell company owned by Imelda Cuellar and two of the couple’s adult children. That company received payments of $25,000 per month under a “sham contract,” purportedly in exchange for unspecified strategic consulting and advising services, the court documents said.

Among other things, Cuellar agreed to influence legislation favorable to Azerbaijan and deliver a pro-Azerbaijan speech on the floor of the U.S. House, the indictment states.

In addition to bribery and conspiracy, the Cuellars face charges including wire fraud conspiracy, acting as agents of foreign principals, and money laundering. If convicted, they could face decades in prison and forfeiture of any property linked to proceeds from the alleged scheme.

Cuellar has said he has no plans to resign from Congress and few of his colleagues have called for him to step down. Cuellar did step down as the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee.


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