Shake up at Homeland Security, “Special Visas” Involved
Not long before he became governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe received special treatment on behalf of his electric-car company from a top official at the Department of Homeland Security, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.
McAuliffe was among several politically powerful individuals from both parties, including Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), seeking special visas for foreign investors through a program administered by the department. But intervention on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company by Alejandro Mayorkas, now the department’s No. 2 official, “was unprecedented,” according to the report.
The long-anticipated report found no evidence of law-breaking. But members of the department’s staff perceived Mayorkas’s actions as “politically motivated,” and the report concluded that he had “created an appearance of favoritism and special access.” (These are not considered “criminal”?)
The report is likely to stir up renewed scrutiny of the department’s management of the EB-5 visa program, which allows foreign nationals who create jobs in the United States to obtain green cards. And it is likely to rekindle examination of McAuliffe and GreenTech, which at the time of Mayorkas’s actions was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its conduct in soliciting foreign investors.
Initially popular with lawmakers from both parties, the visa program has prompted accusations from detractors that it puts visas up for sale — and doesn’t provide sufficient oversight to ensure that the promised jobs materialize.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson expressed full confidence in Mayorkas following the report’s release Tuesday afternoon. But in his statement, Johnson called for a new internal “protocol” for future decision-making in the visa program. This story is nothing short of some Hollyweird blockbuster; please note the nepotism, money, film, Las Vegas, and the “good ol’ boys and girls club” from Washington D.C.
The report focuses primarily on Mayorkas’s actions between 2010 and 2013, when he led the department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency. It also provides extensive details of Mayorkas’s dealings with McAuliffe and GreenTech, the electric-car manufacturing firm that McAuliffe owned at the time.
McAuliffe’s company had partnered with Gulf Coast Funds Management, a firm that specializes in obtaining EB-5 visas for investors. Gulf Coast was led by Anthony Rodham, brother of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
McAuliffe and Gulf Coast were seeking a faster review of his firm’s request for more than 200 visa approvals that he thought were moving too slowly. Like many others, he was distressed with delays in the program. Unlike most others, his complaints got top-level attention at the department.
Mayorkas called a staff meeting to convey his disagreement with a decision to reject Gulf Coast’s petition, according to
the report. That, in turn, allowed McAuliffe to push ahead for the visa approvals, some of which have since gone through.
In addition to the case involving McAuliffe’s car company, the inspector general focused on actions Mayorkas took on behalf of a film project in Los Angeles that was backed by former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, and on the construction of a casino in Las Vegas supported by Reid, who was Senate majority leader at the time.
Mayorkas told investigators that in all of those cases, “he intervened to improve the EB-5 process or to prevent an error,” the report said.
The report, based on 50 interviews and a review of 1 million e-mails and related files, drew a mixed response from Congress.
Mayorkas was criticized in the 1990s for his role in President Bill Clinton’s commutation of the prison sentence of the son of a Democratic Party donor from California. Mayorkas testified in 2009 that “it was a mistake” to talk to the White House about the commutation request for Carlos Vignali.
In his role as deputy secretary, Mayorkas has broad responsibility in the department, including overseeing a recent review of the operations of the Secret Service and advising its new director during a newly launched congressional investigation of the agency.