WASHINGTON (AP) – Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has been defending himself against allegations he used his previous government post to provide preferential treatment to the politically connected before he was promoted to the agency's No. 2 position.
Now he's set to renew that defense before the House Homeland Security Committee in the wake of a report from his agency's inspector general that concluded Mayorkas violated ethics rules when he intervened as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in three foreign-investor visa cases involving three prominent Democrats.
Inspector General John Roth didn't accuse Mayorkas of breaking the law when he intervened in the three cases that were part of the U.S. government's investor-visa program, known as EB-5, but said Mayorkas violated agency rules he drafted as head of USCIS.
Thursday's hearing is likely to be contentious as lawmakers get their first chance to question Mayorkas about the 99-page report from March.
Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said after the report was released that Roth's findings were "very concerning." The Texas Republican said the committee has done an in-depth review of the report and additional documents since the report was released.
"After reviewing this information, I have even more questions about Mr. Mayorkas' judgment," McCaul said Wednesday.
Roth found that Mayorkas improperly meddled with three visa cases involving the youngest brother of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
At a March hearing in front of McCaul's committee, Roth told lawmakers that "in each of these three instances, but for Mr. Mayorkas' intervention, the matter would have been decided differently."
Mayorkas was accused of intervening in applications for the government's EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners to obtain visas to live permanently in the United States 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 permanent residents after two years, and later can become U.S. citizens.
Mayorkas has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing since the allegations first surfaced days before his July 2013 Senate confirmation hearing. The investigation was first reported by the Associated Press and prompted a boycott of his hearing by Senate Republicans, including Sen. Charles Grassley.
During that hearing, Mayorkas called the allegations "unequivocally false." After Roth's report was made public, Mayorkas said he disagreed with the findings but said, "I will certainly learn from it and from this process."
He added: "There was erroneous decision-making and insufficient security vetting of cases. I could not and did not turn my back on my responsibility to address those grave problems. I made improving the program a priority and I did so in a hands-on manner."
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called for Mayorkas to be held accountable for Roth's findings, but has stopped short of calling for his firing.