COSTA MESA — U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) on Tuesday defended an unusual trip he made to Honduras with now-Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer. The trip was discussed in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and published in The New York Times.
"I'm a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I was there to make sure that I fully understood all the forces that were in place in Honduras, and also to give legitimacy to the government that had been elected there," Rohrabacher told the Daily Pilot.
The trip came under fire because it was made in opposition to President Obama's foreign policy. Generally members of Congress uphold White House foreign policy abroad, even if they disagree.
Rohrabacher's campaign chairman, Righeimer, who was a city planning commissioner at the time,
said he paid his own way to Honduras and was honored to have been asked to join the congressman.
"A few of us went down and met with and congratulated all the different legislators," Righeimer said. "We met with the president and all the people that basically kept the government a democracy at a pretty tough time. We wanted them to know that a lot of people in the U.S. supported them. It was a very proud moment to be able to be there and meet these people."
Also traveling with the contingent was longtime Rohrabacher contributor and rare coin dealer John R. Saunders, as well as SG Biofuels President Kirk Haney, who worked as an intern for the congressman at one time.
San Diego-based SG Biofuels is run by a friend of Rohrabacher's wife.
Rohrabacher and his group, who visited the country from Jan. 31, 2009, to Feb. 2, according to the WikiLeaks cable, met with President Porfirio Lobo and Honduras Congressional President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Rohrabacher promised to urge the U.S. government to re-instate visas revoked as a result of the coup d'etat, according to the cable.
Rohrabacher said he supported the Honduras government's coup d'etat that ran its sitting president, Manuel Zelaya, out of office after introducing a law that would have extended presidential term limits.
The Obama administration and European Union condemned the Honduras government's removal of Zelaya.
As for the men who accompanied Rohrabacher, he said they simply were invited to see government in action and that his personal ties to the executives was not an issue.
"I know a lot of people on a personal level," Rohrabacher said. "They met me there, I told them where I was going to be, and certainly they had every right to be there. I would hope that they would discuss business. I hope that the business community is successful in creating jobs and business opportunities in other countries."
Rohrabacher also criticized The New York Times' article, saying it was done in a way to cast some sort of wrongdoing by him.
He added that his visit is the sort of information that the American people should know about.