The Department of Homeland Security’s second-in-command intervened in a “highly unusual” manner on behalf of several politically connected individuals, including Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, the agency’s inspector general testified Thursday.
John Roth’s testimony in front of the House Committee on Homeland Security comes two days after the release of a long-awaited report detailing how former U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) director Alejandro Mayorkas handled three EB-5 visa applications submitted by companies with ties to Reid, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Rodham, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. (RELATED: DHS Official Gave Special Favors To Hillary Clinton’s Brother)
In the case of Senate Majority Leader Reid, Mayorkas, who took over as deputy secretary of DHS in 2013, allowed SLS Hotel and Casino to “cut in front of the line” on its application for EB-5 visas for Chinese investors. The law firm of Reid’s son, Rory, represented SLS at the time. EB-5 visas allow aliens who invest at least $500,000 in U.S. companies to obtain green cards for themselves and their families. (RELATED: Harry Reid Personally Pressured DHS On Behalf Of Son’s Casino Project)
“We found in that case that there was several highly unusual things that occurred as a result of the intervention,” Roth told Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican.
Roth’s investigation found that a Reid staffer reached out to USCIS in Dec. 2012 to speed up the application determination. When the application was denied, Reid personally called Mayorkas on Jan. 8. Mayorkas apparently agreed to look into the denial and agreed to have USCIS staff brief Reid on the case on a weekly basis.
“We found that unusual because that had rarely been done,” Roth testified.
He also said that staff objected to Mayorkas’ work-around, saying that SLS’ application had not been delayed unfairly and that the intervention appeared to be a case of favoritism.
Staffers also worried that Mayorkas’ actions would allow “people would figure out that this was a way to game the system.”
“We believe that there was the appearance that there was favoritism as a result of this action,” Roth said.
Mayorkas also “intervened in a way that he had never done before” to help speed up an EB-5 application on behalf of Gulf Coast Funds Management. Rodham was CEO of the company. McAuliffe was chairman of the board. Both sought EB-5 visas for Chinese investors in their car manufacturing company, GreenTech Automotive.
USCIS staffers thought the project was a dud, but Mayorkas insisted on giving the application more consideration.
After numerous interactions between Mayorkas and representatives of Gulf Coast — including McAuliffe — he took the unprecedented step of “asking to see the draft opinion, by commenting on the draft opinion, and having influence on how that draft opinion ultimately was decided.”
“In our opinion that created an appearance of direct access,” Roth testified.
And asked if USCIS staff believed this intervention was political in nature, Roth said they believed “that there was a political component to Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention in this.”
McCaul also asked Roth about an EB-5 application submitted by L.A. Films and Sony Pictures. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who also once chaired the Democratic National Committee, was involved in pushing the project.
Roth said that USCIS officials working on EB-5 applications were poised to deny the proposal and that Mayorkas had been informed of that in July 2011.
But Roth said that his investigators found out that on July 15, Mayorkas had talked with Rendell by phone.
“Almost immediately after that — within an hour of that phone call — Mr. Mayorkas directed his staff to reverse the denials that had been issued and stop issuing denials,” Roth said.
“We are unable to understand what other intervening events would have occurred between the time he knew of, and at least tacitly approved of, the denials in that case, other than the phone call with Mr. Rendell.”
Roth said that Mayorkas’ interventions violated USCIS policy against preferential treatment and favoritism.
His actions also violated memos he sent himself to agency staff.
“One memo said you should not meet with certain stakeholders at the exclusion of others and also that the appearance of that kind of thing is highly damaging to USCIS,” Roth testified.
“In our judgement, we believe that these contacts between Mr. Rendell and Mr. Mayorkas violated that.”
Roth also testified that Mayorkas violated another agency policy which required communications between stakeholders to be recorded within agency files.
“Because we found no record of the communication between Mr. Mayorkas and Mr. Rendell, we believe that that policy was not followed,” Roth testified.
In a long response attached to Roth’s report, Mayorkas said that his actions were only meant to repair what he considered a broken EB-5 system. DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson and the White House expressed their unwavering support for him after the IG report was released Tuesday.