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Lawmakers' trip under review

WASHINGTON_Representative Jim Bridenstine and three other House members' trip to Azerbaijan is being reviewed by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The four representatives say they had no idea the 2013 congressional trip to Azerbajin had been funded by the country's government. Congressional rules bar foreign governments from paying for travel by members of Congress.

Aides to Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Ted Poe and Ruben Hinojosa of Texas and Leonard Lance of New Jersey say lawmakers were given approval for the May 2013 trip from the House Ethics committee.

Two Houston-based nonprofit corporations told the committee they were sponsoring the conference in the capital city of Baku, near the Caspian Sea.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Azerbaijan's state-owned oil company allegedly paid $750,000 to cover travel expenses for the lawmakers - as well as scarves, rugs and other gifts - by sending funds through the nonprofit corporations.

Bridenstine explained in a blog post on his website that the trip had been approved by the House Committee on Ethics before the trip.

“Two years ago, I and other Members of Congress were invited to participate in a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan focused on the U.S.-Azerbaijan relationship. The House Committee on Ethics approved my travel request in writing prior to the trip, as is required for all House Members' travel.

Oklahoma has an interest in Azerbaijan. Oklahoma's National Guard has an ongoing, cooperative interaction with Azerbaijan's armed forces in the federally sponsored State Partnership Program, and Oklahoma State University sends faculty to Azerbaijan to assist with agricultural development.

From a U.S. national security standpoint, Azerbaijan is uniquely positioned to diminish the effectiveness of Russia's territorial ambitions.”

Bridenstine says he was given two rugs, valued at $2,500 and $3,500, and wished to donate the more expensive rug to the House Clerk's Office and pay for the smaller rug himself. He says he sought advice from the Committee on Ethics and returned the two rugs.

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