Inquiry Finds Homeland Security Official Intervened in Visa Cases
The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security told a House committee on Thursday that he did not believe “there was criminal activity involved” when the head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency directly intervened to expedite the consideration of visas for foreign investors with close ties to prominent Democrats.
But John Roth, the inspector general for Homeland Security, said his office’s investigation found evidence that Alejandro Mayorkas, the department’s deputy secretary who previously ran the visa agency, created the “perception” that certain well-connected Democrats “had special access and would receive special consideration” for foreign investor visas, known as EB-5 visas. The review took more than two years.
Mr. Roth told the House Homeland Security Committee that Mr. Mayorkas appeared to have violated his own code of behavior, which he had outlined in a memo while he was head of the visa agency. But he also said, “We have not seen any kind of action that we believe violates criminal law.”
The hearing came just two days after the inspector general released a report — prompted by the concern of 15 whistle-blowers at the agency — that claimed Mr. Mayorkas, as head of the agency, had become personally involved in helping to expedite visa reviews for three high-profile foreign investors. (That is a lot of whistle-blowers for this one action!)
Mr. Mayorkas, the report found, had intervened on behalf of investors with ties to Terry McAuliffe, a top Democratic fund-raiser who is now the governor of Virginia; Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the minority leader; Edward G. Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania; and Anthony D. Rodham, the brother of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state, who is considered a probable candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.
Mr. Mayorkas’s behavior, according to the report, led to “significant resentment” among employees at his agency and created “an appearance of favoritism and special access.”
Maria M. Odom, the ombudsman for the visa agency, also testified Thursday. The committee has invited Mr. Mayorkas to appear after the two-week congressional break starting next week.
Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, told reporters after the hearing that he was not yet ready to call for specific consequences or punishment for Mr. Mayorkas until he heard Mr. Mayorkas’s side of the story. “It certainly raises a lot of questions about impropriety within the department,” Mr. McCaul said.
He added that he was “very concerned about the outside influence by these big time political Democratic operators, with a lot of cash,” noting that many of the Democrats on whose behalf Mr. Mayorkas intervened have strong ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“It’s showing political favoritism to big time Democratic heavy hitters, big fund-raisers, advocates for the Clinton machine,” he said.
The hearing was divided along partisan lines, with Republicans asking Mr. Roth to reiterate the most damning portions of his office’s report, while Democrats pointed out that the inspector general had found no criminal wrongdoing and that both Democrats and Republicans often intervened on constituent matters.