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Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz reportedly said he wanted to see more evidence against Rep. Henry Cuellar “given the White House’s antagonism toward” the Democratic lawmaker. Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Henry Cuellar, Under Federal Indictment, Has Some Unusual Defenders

Former President Donald Trump suggested President Joe Biden was behind the Democratic lawmaker’s indictment.

A surprising pair came to Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar’s defense after he was indicted last week: two high-profile Republicans.

“Given the White House’s antagonism toward Henry Cuellar, it is reasonable to at least want to see the evidence before coming to a conclusion on this,” Sen. Ted Cruz said, also calling the allegations “serious,” according to The Washington Post’s Patrick Svitek.

“Biden just Indicted Henry Cuellar because the Respected Democrat Congressman wouldn’t play Crooked Joe’s Open Border game,” former President Donald Trump posted on Truth Social. “He was for Border Control, so they said, ‘let’s use the FBI and DOJ to take him out!’ This is the way they operate…”

The reaction to Cuellar’s charges highlights the moderate Democrat’s unusually friendly relationship with the GOP. Cuellar and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, were indicted Friday on bribery and money laundering charges; he has denied any wrongdoing. And while some Republicans have celebrated the charges, Trump and Cruz used them to go after President Joe Biden as part of a broader claim that he has weaponized the Justice Department.

Cuellar’s critics within the Democratic Party found the Republican comments unsurprising.

“He has always been willing to be a pawn for the Republican Party to use against Democrats,” said Justice Democrats spokesperson Usamah Andrabi.

“Henry’s deal, forever, has been the Democrat who could be exploited … to help other Republicans, whether it’s Rick Perry or Tony Gonzalez or Donald Trump,” said Texas Democratic strategist Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project, a political action committee that provides tools and resources to defeat Texas Republicans.

Cuellar’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the statements by Trump and Cruz.

Cuellar has consistently split with much of his party on gun, border and abortion policy. He’s the sole Democrat in the House to oppose abortion rights. At one point, he received an “A” rating from the NRA and has been one of a few Democrats to get endorsed by the Club for Growth.

Cuellar’s alliances with Republicans go back decades. While a state representative, he endorsed George W. Bush over Al Gore, his Democratic opponent. In 2006, when he had joined the House, Cuellar was criticized for sitting with Republicans at the State of the Union and for sharing an embrace with Bush after the speech. In 2018, he helped host and raise money for John Carter, a Republican congressman from Round Rock, Texas, in his bid against MJ Hegar, who was the Democratic nominee.

And in the past few months, Cuellar has highlighted bipartisan achievements with Cruz and bipartisan CODELs with Republican Rep. Michael McCaul. He’s also been seen on Fox News as the Democratic voice advocating for tougher border security.

All of this has earned him a reputation among some of his colleagues as frustratingly close to the GOP. When Jessica Cisneros, a former intern in Cuellar’s office, announced the first of her two primary challenges against him in 2020, she called him “Trump’s favorite Democrat.”

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Still, Cuellar has plenty of allies within his party — and many of his Democratic colleagues have been hesitant to take action or comment on the charges.

For his part, Cuellar has suggested the charges against him were unfair. He said in a statement Friday that he and his wife “requested a meeting with the Washington, D.C., prosecutors to explain the facts, and they refused to discuss the case with us or to hear our side.”

“These allegations have been difficult on my family,” he said in the statement. “But, with your prayers, we will overcome.”

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.