A couple of Democratic congressmen are seen shirtless and smiling while riding camels during a Middle East trip that was paid for by a special interest group. Photos show Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Ruben Gallego of Arizona enjoying a camel ride in Qatar along the Persian Gulf. The photos of the trip that took place earlier this year show Swalwell without a face mask.
Photos of the Democratic congressmen in Qatar were published by Business Insider, which said the trip cost $84,621.59, and was paid for by the US-Qatar Business Council, which describes itself as "dedicated exclusively to enhancing the bilateral business relationship between the U.S. and Qatar."
The photos had been posted on social media by Sydney Barron Gallego, the wife of Ruben Gallego.
"Sand dunes, camels, and the persian gulf," the caption reads on one of the photos from Qatar, which was posted on a now-deleted Instagram account of Gallego's wife. The photo featured the Democratic representatives with their wives, all of which were not wearing masks, on a camel ride on Sealine Beach.
The junket took place in March, at a time when there was a surge in coronavirus cases in Qatar. It was also the same time that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged everyone to wear face masks, even if they were outside, and even if they were vaccinated against COVID-19. Currently, the U.S. State Department tells U.S. travelers to "reconsider" travel to Qatar.
Besides Swalwell and Gallego, the US-Qatar Business Council also flew Reps. Luis Correa (D-Calif.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), and Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) to the wealthy Middle East country. The group of U.S. politicians were staying at the five-star, luxurious, oceanfront Four Seasons Hotel in Doha, Qatar's capital city.
On April 1, the US-Qatar Business Council posted a photo of the American lawmakers meeting Qatar's monarch, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The representatives received approval from the House Ethics Committee for the trip; however, House rules clearly state that lawmakers are not permitted to accept invitations to participate in entertainment activities funded by private groups.
The outlet notes that Swalwell's disclosure "appears to have been filed past the 15-day deadline."
"While there are mentions of museum and marketplace visits on the itinerary, none specifically mention a camel ride," the report stated. "Parts of the schedule were open for 'personal time.'"
Business Insider said, "Neither of the congressmen's offices responded to questions about the photos and who paid for the outing."
Swalwell, who is a prominent member of the House Intelligence Committee, was embroiled with another controversy in December. A report surfaced that a suspected Chinese spy got so involved with Swalwell that federal investigators had to alert the congressman.
Republicans called for Swalwell to be removed from his House Intel Committee position over his relationship with the suspected Chinese spy, Christine Fang.