Last week it was during a hearing before a federal court in Texas, this week it’s from a report by the Inspector General’s Office. The Department of Homeland Security has found itself again in hot water as allegations surface that Citizen and Immigration Services’ head, Ali Mayorkas, gave special treatment to friends and top Democrats with business holdings tied up in the controversial EB-5 “investor visa” program.
EB-5 projects managed by Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s brother Anthony Rodham, and several others, all reportedly received their investors’ visa applications ‘fast-tracked’ in spite of strict agency rules and complaints from USCIS staff. Despite the IG report finding an ‘appearance of preferential treatment,’ Sec. Johnson’s committed himself to defending his top lieutenant.
One voice that’s also come out to defend Mayorkas is Mississippi House Rep. Bennie G. Thompson. The Ranking Member of House Homeland Security has issued a statement calling Mayorkas’s “hand-on” approach “misinterpreted” and that, in his eyes, the IG report merely “paints a picture” of a leader who demanded “responsiveness from his agency.” Why he’s come out unprovoked to defend Mayorkas, who’s been caught red-handed and who’s long had controversial ties to the Rodhams and the Clintons, may appear odd. Emails unearthed last year, however, may show why.
The main allegation against Mayorkas in the IG report (there are several) involves a car company founded in 2010 by Terry McAuliffe and Tony Rodham. “GreenTech” was created as an “EB-5” project, meaning it was to be financed under USCIS’s EB-5 immigrant investor visa program. EB-5 visa applicants, Chinese usually, parlay $500,000 into a jobs-creating business in a poor part of the country and after two years, they get to skip the line for a green card. Terry was involved in the venture in order to score points as a “jobs-creator” while he was running for Virginia governor. Tony was involved because he also owned the brokerage company that facilitated the overseas investment and took in huge fees (~$55,000/applicant) in the process.
Tony and Terry, however, ran into a problem with EB-5 officials (some of the whistleblowers the IG report cites). In direct contradiction with the regulations, they had been attempting to structure investments into GreenTech as risk-free, secured debt. But the regulations clearly state EB-5 investments must be “at-risk,” making investors have some skin in the game. An investment would’ve meant many more investor/applicants (and much more non-refundable fees!) if it was secured and “risk-free.”
After being smacked down by an administrative judge, however, much of Terry and Tony’s visa applications became frozen. In steps Ali Mayorkas. While a California DA, Ali along with Tony’s brother Hugh lobbied the White House to get a cocaine-smuggling conviction commuted for the son of a major Clinton donor, Horacio Vignali. Terry also reached out to several people: One, now former Homeland Security head, Janet Napolitano, and the other, Bennie Thompson. In a textbook case about the dangers of having administrative courts, Mayorkas obtained the administrative judge’s opinion and singlehandedly rewrote and reversed it.
Emails unearthed in late 2013 show Terry’s team had been in contact with Thompson’s office in order to “move the approvals along.” Thompson always met the GreenTech team in Washington and Mississippi. Not only is Thompson’s district where GreenTech’s based (Tunica County), he’s also the highest ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee and would presumably have the most weight in the House when it came to getting the attention of top Obama-appointees in DHS. An additional reason Thompson looks to be on the shortlist for a top posting within the department. He was shortlisted for the top Secretary spot after Napolitano stepped down. Going to bat for Mayorkas may solidify a comfortable posting if Hillary takes the White House in 2016.
At this point it’s difficult to know exactly how Thompson’s nudging of Mayorkas was effective in ‘unfreezing’ Terry and Tony’s visas (and millions in fees). Hopefully further prodding from Sen. Grassley and Rep. McCaul can ‘paint a picture’ about who else was demanding “responsiveness” from DHS.