At a hearing Wednesday on allegations Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was involved in improper influence regarding special business-related visas, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said he is “extremely troubled by the findings of the DHS Inspector General’s report on the EB-5 program.”
“The alleged exertion of undue influence and special processes established by Mayorkas during his tenure as director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that resulted in benefits for politically-connected and powerful individuals is extremely concerning,” McCaul said.
Homeland Security Today reported Tuesday that the DHS Inspector General’s (IG) investigation into allegations by career (USCIS) employees that Mayorkas exerted "improper influence in the normal processing and adjudication of applications and petitions in” the Employment-Based Fifth Preference (EB-5) program administered by USCIS were not without merit.
The IG stated it found Mayorkas “was in contact, outside of the normal adjudication process, either directly or throughsenior DHS leadership, with a number of applicants and other stakeholders having business before USCIS,” and that this “method of communication violated established USCIS policy for handling inquiries into the program.”
While the IG conceded it does “not have direct evidence of what Mr. Mayorkas and these applicants and stakeholders discussed; some emails suggest that the conversations were quite substantive. In Mr. Mayorkas’ testimony for his confirmation as deputy secretary, and in his interview with [the IG], he stated that he simply received information from a variety of stakeholders and then acted on it to improve the program. With few exceptions, the other parties to the conversations declined to speak with us.”
“In three matters pending before USCIS,” the IG’s report stated, Mayorkas “communicated with stakeholders on substantive issues, outside of the normal adjudicatory process, and intervened with the career USCIS staff in ways that benefited the stakeholders. In each of these three instances, but for Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention, the matter would have been decided differently.”
"While I disagree with the Inspector General’s report," Mayorkas said in response this week, "I will certainly learn from it and from this process. I appreciate and embrace Secretary [Jeh] Johnson’s decision to create a new protocol to ensure the EB-5 program is free from the reality or perception of improper outside influence."
"As the leader of US Citizenship and Immigrations Services, I had the responsibility to ensure that cases, including the three that are the focus of the report, were decided as the law required and that agency errors were corrected," Mayorkas said, noting, "I fulfilled that responsibility and I also took steps to ensure that my involvement was understood by those around me."
Mayorkas said, "The EB-5 program was badly broken when I arrived at USCIS. 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, through cases, policies and sweeping personnel and organizational changes."
DHS Secretary Johnson said in a statement that, "I have read and carefully considered the Inspector General’s report concerning Deputy Secretary Mayorkas. I have known Alejandro Mayorkas since I was first nominated in the fall of 2013 to be Secretary of Homeland Security. I work with him virtually every day. I know Ali to be an exceptionally conscientious, honest and patriotic public official."
"Like me," Johnson said, "he is often impatient with our sluggish government bureaucracy, can at times be very hands-on in resolving issues and problems that are brought to his personal attention, and is always mindful that we are public servants. Ali works hard to do the right thing, and never acts, in my observation, for reasons of personal advancement or aggrandizement. These personal attributes are reflected in the Inspector General’s report."
The list of individuals involved in the allegations raised in the IG’s report "reads like an A-list political powerhouses,” McCaul said.
- Ed Rendell – former Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and long-time Clinton advocate;
- Terry McAuliffe – current Democratic Governor of Virginia, former chair of the Democratic National Committee (after Ed Rendell), co-chairman of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign;
- Anthony Rodham – younger brother of Hillary Clinton; and
- Harry Reid – Senate Minority Leader.
McCaul said, “The findings show that Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention in three specific examples, involving the individuals I just mentioned gave the appearance that he played favorites with these Democratic political operatives capable of opening doors in Washington.”
“Specifically,” McCaul said, “according to the Inspector General’s report:
- “Mayorkas intervened in an administrative appeal related to an application to receive EB-5 funding to manufacture electric cars through investments in a company at the behest of Terry McAuliffe, a former board chairman, and Anthony Rodham, who was listed as the CEO of Gulf Coast, an entity that managed related investments.
- “Mayorkas intervened in a case involving a Las Vegas hotel that was of interest to Senator Reid. He also took the extraordinary step of requiring staff to brief Senator Reid’s staff on a weekly basis for several months.
- “Mayorkas intervened in the LA Films Regional Center cases by ordering that a USCIS decision to deny a proposal to fund a series of movie projects in LA be reversed after he was in contact with Ed Rendell.
- “Mayorkas overruled career staff in numerous instances and according to the report, “communicated with stakeholders on substantive issues” and influenced the outcome of the cases.”
“Although there are a lot of details and technical specifics in this report,” McCaul admitted, “I am troubled by many aspects that allegedly occurred under the watch, and with the direct intervention of Mr. Mayorkas.”
McCaul said in his opening remarks at the hearing that,” As I read the report, I was struck by four main themes” in the IG’s report:
- Special Access: “Their allegations were unequivocal: Mr. Mayorkas gave special access and treatment to certain individuals and parties … Furthermore, the report states that ‘… Mr. Mayorkas’ communication with external stakeholders on specific matters outside the normal procedures … created an appearance of favoritism and special access.’”
- “Political Favoritism: ‘We received complaints from USCIS employees that the application for a politically connected regional center, Gulf Coast Funds Management, received extraordinary treatment as a result of Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention.’ Additionally, “USCIS staff … understood that these applicants were prominent or politically connected.’”
- “Created or went around the established process and career staff decisions: ‘Mr. Mayorkas was in contact, outside of the normal adjudication process, either directly or through senior DHS leadership, with a number of stakeholders having business before USCIS … According to the employees, but for Mayorkas’ actions, the staff would have decided these matters differently.’”
- “Misplaced Priorities: ‘Mr. Mayorkas’ focus on a few applicants and stakeholders was particularly troubling to employees given the massive scope of his responsibilities as director of USCIS.’”
“As a formal federal prosecutor in the public integrity section for the Department of Justice, I appreciate the thorough review conducted by the DHS Inspector General,” McCaul said, noting, “I was struck by the sheer number and variety of the whistleblowers who contributed to this report. More than 15 DHS employees stepped forward. I can’t think of any report in the past that has had as many. They varied in responsibility and authority and included ‘very senior managers’ who were in a position to witness the events in Washington, DC and experts who handle this program in the field. This really drove home the gravity of their allegations. In addition, I know your office conducted more than 50 interviews, reviewed more than 40,000 phone records and obtained more than one million documents and emails.”
Continuing, McCaul said, “As public servants, trust, integrity and honesty mean everything. As members of Congress, we must have the trust ofour constituents and carry out our jobs without the perception of impropriety. Without these qualities, we cannot be seen as effective leaders. Simply put, a public office is a public trust. The same holds true for all public servants including the top leadership at the Department of Homeland Security.”
McCaul said he looks “forward to hearing from Mr. Mayorkas and hearing his side of the story in the near future.”