FACT CHECK: Fact Checking Donald Trump’s Claim About Henry Cuellar’s Indictment

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

In a May 5 post shared on TRUTH Social, 2024 presumptive Republican nominee and former President Donald Trump claimed Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar was purportedly indicted for not “playing” President Joe Biden’s “open border game.”

Verdict: Misleading

According to both the official indictment and a May 3 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Rios Cuellar, were indicted on charges related to bribery, money laundering, and public official acting as an agent of a foreign principal, among others. In addition, multiple experts told Check Your Fact there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

Fact Check:

In his May 5 TRUTH Social post, Trump claimed Cuellar was purportedly indicted for not playing Biden’s “open border game.” “Biden just Indicted Henry Cuellar because the Respected Democrat Congressman wouldn’t play Crooked Joe’s Open Border game. He was for Border Control, so they said, ‘Let’s use the FBI and DOJ to take him out!'” Trump wrote.

“This is the way they operate. They’re a bunch of D.C. Thugs, and at some point they will be paying a very big price for what they have done to our Country. CROOKED JOE BIDEN IS A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY!” he continued.

The claim lacks evidence. Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Rios Cuellar, have been charged with violations related to conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, public official acting as an agent of a foreign principal, money laundering conspiracy, money laundering, and aiding and abetting, according to the official indictment filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

The same indictment accuses Cuellar and his wife of accepting at least $598,000 in bribes from a foreign oil and gas company owned by the government of Azerbaijan and a foreign bank headquartered in Mexico City.

“The bribe payments were laundered, pursuant to sham consulting contracts, through a series of front companies and middlemen into shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar,” who “performed little or no legitimate work under the sham contracts,” the indictment states.

The indictment further accuses Cuellar of agreeing to “perform official acts in his capacity as a Member of Congress, to commit acts in violation of his official duties, and to act as an agent of the Government of Azerbaijan and [the foreign bank in Mexico City]” “in exchange for the bribe payments to Imelda Cuellar.”

A May 3 press release from the DOJ indicates the alleged bribery occurred between December 2014 and November 2021. The release states, that if convicted, Cuellar and his wife will “face maximum penalties,” which includes multiple decades in prison. (RELATED: Biden Makes Claims About His Life In Howard Stern Interview)

Multiple major media outlets including NBC News, The Associated Press, The New York Times, and Business Insider all reported on Cuellar’s indictment, though none of them indicated the congressman’s stance on the U.S.-Mexico border played a role in the charges, as Trump had claimed.

Furthermore, multiple experts told Check Your Fact there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

Dr. Michael A. Genovese, a politics expert and political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, told Check Your Fact Trump’s claim about Cuellar’s indictment is “baseless.”

“This is merely more of the same. Donald Trump has his narrative, he repeats it over and over, and hopes that repetition will turn into acceptance. And yet, it is baseless, and he offers no evidence that President Biden is behind this. Trump is a storyteller, and he rarely lets facts interfere with his story line. As he is not penalized for making things up, he continues to say outrageous things, and his base accepts his word for it,” Genovese said.

Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow who studies Congress and American politics at the center-right American Enterprise Institute, said Trump “has a long history of making unsubstantiated claims and accusations.”

“Former President Trump has a long history of making unsubstantiated claims and accusations. Until he or someone else shares credible evidence to support his conspiratorial claim against the FBI and DOJ, I think we should presume his assertions are bogus,” Kosar said.

Prof. Frank V. Zerunyan, a practice of governance expert at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, agreed that Cuellar’s indictment “has nothing to do with the border.”

“I understand that the Former President’s comments fit the narrative of this administration’s’ persecution of its enemies.’ I know nothing about that. He may have reason to say that or not. What I do know is that Congressman Cuellar has been friendly with Azerbaijan. His indictment has nothing to do with the border,” Zerunyan said.

“The indictment, only recently unsealed, presents detailed accusations that Rep. Cuellar accepted substantial payments from Azerbaijani state-controlled entities in return for advancing pro-Azerbaijan legislation. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I suspect the congressman will have his day in court which I defend as a lawyer and someone who cares about due process,” he added.

Prof. Richard W. Painter, a corporate governance and government ethics expert at the University of Minnesota Law, the chief ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush’s administration and Trump critic said, “there is no evidence that DOJ indictments are filed after consultation with the White House.”

“Indeed communications by White House staff with the DOJ about a pending criminal investigation is strictly prohibited under White House ethics policies. I explained this to Bush Administration White House staff in ethics briefings and I am aware of no violations. I am not aware of violations in any other administration except the Trump Administration where the President himself would berate his Attorneys General (both Sessions and Barr) about pending investigations.”

“Trump has repeatedly made up conspiracy theories that Biden is directing DOJ prosecutions including his own by Jack Smith. There is simply no evidence of this. And neither is there in this case,” Painter explained further.

Although Trump’s claim lacks evidence, Cuellar has focused on the issue of border security during his tenure in Congress. The congressman “launched a Democratic working group on border security” after a piece of bipartisan legislation tackling border security “died in the Senate earlier this year,” according to the Texas Tribune.

Check Your Fact has contacted the White House, a Trump spokesperson, Cuellar’s office and multiple think tanks for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter