Congressman Mike Honda is among a group of lawmakers who accepted trips from organizations secretly funded by a Turkish religious movement in apparent violation of House rules and possibly federal law, USA Today has reported.
Honda checked a box on that form saying he was unaware "of any registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents involved in planning, organizing, requesting, and/or arranging the trip."
USA Today reported that a 2008 cable from the U.S. embassy in Turkey, released by the online whistleblower clearinghouse Wikileaks, describes the Pacifica Institute as a "sister organization" of a Turkish-based group called the Bosphorus-Atlantic Association of Cultural Cooperation and Friendship, known by its Turkish initials BAKIAD.
BAKIAD secretly funded the Turkish leg of a trip to Azerbaijan taken by 10 other members of Congress who took 32 staffers in May 2013, according to a report filed this month by the Office of Congressional Ethics. That trip was sponsored by groups connected to a worldwide moderate Islamic movement led by a religious scholar named Fethullah Gülen, who has been accused by the Turkish government of attempting a coup in that country, USA Today reported. Turkish leaders have asked the United States to extradite Gülen from a remote compound in rural Pennsylvania where he has lived for 20 years.
USA Today identified 214 congressional trips sponsored by Gülen organizations that seem to have been improperly disclosed, with similar itineraries that included visits to the same istorical sites, and meetings with Gülenist journalists, lawmakers and business associations.
Honda was among dozens of House members, including others from the Bay Area, who signed a February 2015 letter urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to help secure the release of Gülenist journalists who had been arrested by the Turkish government.
Mahmut Altun, the Pacifica Institute's Northern California director, signed and filed forms with the Ethics Committee before Honda's trip in which he said his organization was a charitable nonprofit and that the trip would not be financed by any foreign agents.
Altun, reached by phone Friday, said he was driving and couldn't talk, and then hung up. He didn't respond to an emailed inquiry.
The Pacific Institute's website indicates it has offices in Sunnyvale -- at the Tasman Drive address that Altun listed on the Ethics Committee forms -- as well as in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego; the East Bay, Burlingame, the San Fernando Valley, Salt Lake City, Portland, Oregon, and Boise, Idaho.Hari Sevugan, spokesman for Khanna's campaign, said Friday that there are "serious questions raised by these new revelations into how Mike Honda used his office which the congressman will have to publicly answer."
"What is disturbing is that ethics violations and federal investigations are becoming a pattern with Congressman Honda overshadowing everything else," Sevugan said. "This is further evidence for the need for a fresh start in Washington with leadership that can focus on our common priorities, like education and an economy that works for everyone, rather than on ties to narrow special interests."
Josh Richman covers politics. Follow him at Twitter.com/Josh_Richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.