Fresh from an April junket with his wife in the Bavarian Alps paid for by nonprofit foundations backed by German industrialists, House Democrat Juan Vargas embarked alone on another free foreign journey in May, thanks to the Turkish Coalition of America, created to “promote and advance the interests of the Turkish American community and Turks,” says its website. According to a statement Vargas made on his disclosure report, “I am interested in further developing ties with Turkey through dialogue and understanding. This will greater inform my work as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives as we confront threats from ISIS and other transnational terrorist groups.”
Total business class airfare for Vargas on the trip from May 26 through May 31 was $5473, the filing says, with lodging costs of $1209 and total meals of $467. Museum tours, guide services, and meeting rooms added another $388.50 per person. That was less expensive than the European excursion with his wife, which totaled $18,200.
Day one in Istanbul offered a cocktail reception, a boat tour, and a dinner reception. Members of the junket bedded down at the Pera Palace, “Istanbul’s most iconic hotel located in the vibrant Beyoglu district for over one century, combining timeless glamour and elegance with genuine Turkish hospitality,” according to its website. Lectures from professors, meetings with U.S. diplomats, dinner with a Coca-Cola executive, and lunch at the Adahan hotel with a Reuters correspondent were some of the trip’s subsequent highlights. A tour of the famous Hagia Sophia Museum and the iconic Blue Mosque with a historian was also on the agenda.
“For many of the delegates,” the itinerary notes, “the visit to the Blue Mosque was their first time entering a mosque.” Then it was off for a two-hour flight to the former war zone city of Sarajevo in Bosnia, and a quick transfer to the Golf Club Restaurant for a reception and dinner. “This restaurant overlooked a golf course built on [a] previous minefield,” notes the trip’s log, “which underlined the de-mining work undertaken by the Marshall Legacy Institute.” The last day of the junket was all about travel, with lunch at the Maydos Restaurant in Eceabat to hear about Gallipoli and a boat tour of the Dardanelles and Anzac Cove, followed by dinner at the Ilhan Restaurant in Gelibolu and transfer to the Atakoy Hyatt Regency in Istanbul.
In his heyday, Turkey was also a favorite junketing destination of Democrat Bob Filner, who held Vargas’s congressional seat before becoming San Diego mayor and being turned out of office in 2013 following a sexual harassment scandal. In December 2010 the Pacifica Institute, affiliated with Turkey’s controversial Gulen movement, paid lodging and meal expenses worth $880 racked up by Filner during stops at Topkapi Palace, Sultan Ahmet Square, and the Grand Bazaar, among other hot spots.