Hearings

Watchdog rips ‘unprecedented’ intervention by DHS boss to help powerful Dems

Reports says DHS official fast-tracked visas for casino investors

 

The lead watchdog for the Homeland Security Department ripped the No. 2 official at the agency Thursday for allegedly intervening in three visa cases tied to powerful Democrats. 

In at least one case, Inspector General John Roth said, the intervention by DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was "unprecedented." 

Roth testified at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing, two days after he released a 99-page detailing how Mayorkas -- while he was head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services -- allegedly used his position to help politically connected projects. 

Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the roster of involved individuals "reads like an A-list of political powerhouses" -- this included Hillary Clinton's brother Anthony Rodham, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. 

Roth testified that Mayorkas' actions created "significant resentment" among staffers at the agency who got the impression Mayorkas was showing "favoritism and special access." 

He also made clear that Mayorkas' involvement was critical in how the cases turned out. 

"But for Mr. Mayorkas' intervention, the matter would have been decided differently" in three key cases, he testified. 

Roth said in his report that more than 15 whistleblowers spoke with his investigators about Mayorkas. The report concluded that in the three cases Mayorkas went "outside of the normal ... process, and intervened with the career USCIS staff in ways that benefited" the groups seeking his help. 

The visa applications Mayorkas is accused of meddling with were part of the U.S. government's investor-visa program, known as EB-5, which allows foreigners to obtain visas to live permanently in the U.S. with their spouse and children if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for American citizens. Approved investors can become legal permanent residents after two years and later can become U.S. citizens. 

Mayorkas said in a statement Tuesday that he disagreed with the inspector general's findings but that "I will certainly learn from it and from this process." He is not accused of breaking any laws. 

Among the cases covered in the report, Mayorkas was accused of getting involved in a case connected to a financing company run by Rodham. McAuliffe was also connected to the investor proposal but later divested. 

This is the case where Roth described Mayorkas' actions as "unprecedented." The report said Mayorkas, after contacts with McAuliffe, began personally reviewing an appeal of a denial. 

The other two cases involved a Hollywood investment program and an investment effort in Nevada that had ties to Rendell and Reid, respectively. 

In the effort to reach Mayorkas about the Hollywood investment, Tom Rosenfeld, the principal in the Los Angeles Film Center project, contacted John Emerson, an influential Los Angeles attorney who was also a top Obama political bundler. The report, which describes Emerson as a "career adviser" for Mayorkas, said Emerson contacted Mayorkas several times by email in August 2011 about the petitions for the film project. Emerson, a Democratic Party donor who pledged to collect more than $500,000 from others to aid Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, is now U.S. ambassador to Germany. 

In September 2011, Mayorkas replied to Emerson by email, saying he was not involved. But the inspector general said it found records of three phone conversations the same evening between Emerson and Mayorkas' personal cellphone. Mayorkas told investigators he did not discuss the film project case with Emerson, adding that they might have spoken because he was on a board with Emerson's wife. 

But the IG report also referred to a phone call Mayorkas had earlier that year with Rendell, after which Mayorkas moved to stop denials connected to the case. 

On Wednesday, the administration continued to defend Mayorkas, a longtime Democrat who served on President Obama's transition team after his 2008 election and was U.S. attorney in California under President Bill Clinton. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Roth's report actually highlighted problems with the EB-5 investor visa program. 

"Mr. Mayorkas is still at the Department of Homeland Security because he is a decorated public servant and an effective leader of that organization," Earnest said. "And we certainly value the kind of contribution that he has made to the effective management of that department, and he has played an important role in implementing needed reforms in that department. In fact, he was somebody who was leading the effort to strengthen the EB-5 program." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.