The nomination of the No. 2 official at the Department of Homeland Security is indefinitely delayed over an investigation into his dealings with companies run by Terry McAuliffe and Hillary Clinton’s brother.
Republican senators boycotted last week’s confirmation hearing for Alejandro Mayorkas, Obama’s nominee to become the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, a job that could result in him running the department when Secretary Janet Napolitano steps down in September. Two days before the hearing, the news had broken that Mayorkas was under investigation by the department’s own inspector general.
“You shouldn’t have a hearing on someone who has an ongoing IG investigation until you have the results of the investigation,” committee ranking Republican Tom Coburn (R–Oklahoma) told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
Coburn said he wouldn’t agree even to a committee vote for Mayorkas. “It’s not going to be voted on until the investigation is complete,” he said.
Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D–Delaware) told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that the Mayorkas nomination will not be on the agenda at this week’s committee business meeting, so senators will leave town for the August recess without addressing the matter.
The IG office opened the investigation last September based on a referral from the FBI, but its progress is unclear, Carper said. Mayorkas has never been interviewed, and the IG won’t explain to Congress the nature of its investigation, he said. Carper said he believes holding up Mayorkas’s confirmation is unfair.
“Part of our responsibility is to vet nominees, not to kill nominees, not to hold them forever,” Carper said. “To have his reputation questioned by an investigation that supposedly started nine months ago and hasn’t even issued any preliminary findings, it’s not the way to treat people.”
For the last four years, Mayorkas has been the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where among his many responsibilities was overseeing the EB-5 program, which grants visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in a new American business that will create or preserve domestic jobs.
Mayorkas is alleged to have used his influence to help secure a visa for a vice president at Huawei Technology, a Chinese firm investigated by the House Intelligence Committee for its ties to Chinese intelligence and military. Huawei declined to comment on the matter.
The request for the EB-5 visa was submitted and supported by Gulf Coast Funds Management, a firm run by Hillary Clinton’s brother Anthony Rodham. Gulf Coast has a partnership with GreenTech, an electric automotive company founded by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is building a factory in China.
In December 2010, McAuliffe wrote to Napolitano on behalf of GreenTech and asked her to expedite the company’s EB-5 requests and reopen consideration of requests that had been previously denied.
This past January, Rodham wrote to Mayorkas directly and pressed him to speed up approval of EB-5 visas for GreenTech.
The first report on the probe cited an email the IG’s office sent to lawmakers notifying them that Mayorkas was under investigation but saying no criminal conduct had yet been discovered. DHS clarified in a July 26 email that there have been "no preliminary findings as to the substance of any allegation made against Mr. Mayorkas."
The allegations are gaining further traction because Mayorkas has been accused of granting political favors in the past. In 2001, while U.S. attorney for Southern California, he was criticized for lobbying the Clinton White House for a clemency request for convicted drug trafficker Carlos Vignali, whose father was a wealthy Los Angelas businessman and political donor. It was later revealed that the elder Vignali was suspected of drug trafficking as well.
Clinton administration officials later said that Mayorkas’s intervention was a key factor in their clemency decision. Mayorkas has apologized for his role in the affair. Hugh Rodham, also Clinton’s brother, was paid $400,000 to lobby the Clinton White House on the clemency case.
At his Democrat-only hearing, Mayorkas denied using his position to give political favors but acknowledged being aware of the GreenTech case and being involved in a policy decision that allowed the denial of the EB-5 visa in question to resubmitted and subsequently approved.
“I enforce the law. I enforce the law based on the facts. I do not put my finger on the scale of justice. The scale of justice is based on the facts and the law, and nothing else,” he testified.
The issue that quashed GreenTech’s application the first time was whether the Chinese executive’s investment capital was really at risk throughout the term of the investment, as is required by law to secure the visa. Mayorkas said the case fell into a gray area, so his office issued a new policy memorandum clarifying the issue in a way that happened to allow for the visa.
“I did nothing that I haven’t done hundreds and hundreds of times when difficult issues reach my attention and the agency needs resolution of them,” he testified.
Lawmakers are not going to let the issue go. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa), who isn’t on the committee, is seeking to broaden the investigation to cover the entire EB-5 program, which he says has disregarded national-security considerations when handing over visas.
“I’ve received information and documents from whistleblowers over the last few days, which demonstrate that the Director was directly involved in expediting EB-5 applications before the proper security checks,” Grassley said in a statement last week. “The FBI has expressed serious national security concerns with foreign investors involved in some of the EB-5 projects that had moved forward. We need to be sure that the EB-5 program is not only creating economic stimulus and jobs, but that the nation’s security isn’t at risk.”
The White House is standing by Mayorkas, writing to Carper on July 24 and telling him that the FBI fully vetted Mayorkas and that the administration has no reason not to fully support his confirmation. Behind the scenes, the White House has been rounding up recommendations from former officials to persuade lawmakers that Mayorkas is the right man for the job.
Carper won’t say outright that Mayorkas didn’t do anything wrong, but he said he doesn’t have faith in the IG office to get to the bottom of the issue, much less in the near future. The Senate is investigating several allegations of nepotism and abuse of power in the IG’s office.
“We have an investigation by an IG’s office which is also under investigation,” he said. “If you look into the assertions about the IG’s office at DHS, the idea that they are questioning the integrity and reputation of Mayorkas is the height of irony.”
Carper said he is alarmed that more than a dozen senior positions in the Homeland Security Department are now vacant or filled with acting personnel.
“There are gaping holes in the management of this department. It’s not a good situation,” he said. “We don’t need the so-called investigation to take another nine months. This department needs strong leadership now.”