Obama's DHS Deputy Secretary Nominee at Center of IG Investigation
On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held hearings on the confirmation of current U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas to become Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. No Republican Senators participated in the hearings.
Mayorkas is the target of an investigation launched by the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Homeland Security into allegations that he improperly overruled a decision to deny a visa to a Chinese national. The indivdual was invested in Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe's GreenTech Automotive, a startup manufacturer of electric vehicles, through the controversial EB-5 program.
In a prepared statement released Thursday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the committee, explained why Republicans did not attend the hearings, which he said should be postponed until the Inspector General's Office investigation is completed. "Neither the White House, nor DHS, nor Mr. Mayorkas himself disclosed to us the existence of an active investigation into Mr. Mayorkas, featuring allegations which, if true, may directly apply to his fitness to serve as Deputy Secretary and potentially Acting Secretary of DHS," the statement read.
"Asking Mr. Mayorkas to testify before our Committee in light of this investigation is unfair and improper," the statement continued. "It is unfair first to Mr. Mayorkas, positioning him to face questions in a public forum based on incomplete understandings of the facts and allegations of the investigation into his conduct... It is unfair to the Inspector General’s investigators, who are as we speak attempting to fairly and fully determine the facts surrounding the allegations before them."
Coburn's statement concluded by saying he "cannot participate in a hearing I believe to be unfair and improper to all parties involved." Mr. Mayorkas' nomination should only be considered, he said, "Once the allegations before the Inspector General are resolved and the Committee confirms no outstanding investigations exist regarding Mr. Mayorkas."
The committee's Democrat chairman, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), was not moved by Senator Coburn's argument. He held the hearings despite Tuesday's report in the Associated Press that Mayorkas "was named by the DHS Inspector General's Office as a target in an ongoing investigation about the foreign investor program run by USCIS."
The Associated Press story also reported that the probe was launched based on a complaint first identified by the FBI that Mayorkas "helped a financing company run by Anthony Rodham, the brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to win approval for an investor visa, even after the application was denied and an appeal was rejected."
Mayorkas began his testimony by categorically denying allegations he had ever used "undue influence" to decide the outcome of any case he had ever been involved in.
"I have never ever in my career exercised undue influence to influence the outcome of a case," he said. "My entire life I have tried to live in a way and aspired to live in a way that bring honor to my parents."
Mayorkas was born in Havana, Cuba, and was brought to the United States by his parents when he was one year old. "There has never been an instance in which I have failed to do so," he told the committee members present.
"The allegations as they have been framed are unequivocally false," he concluded.
Mr. Mayorkas was asked if he had ever met with Terry McAuliffe to discuss his complaints that the USCIS was not moving fast enough to rule in favor of his request to extend the authority of the EB-5 regional center that GreenTech Automotive controls, Gulf Coast Funds Management, beyond the states of Louisiana and Mississippi into Tennessee and Louisiana.
Mr. Mayorkas confirmed that he had in fact met with Mr. McAuliffe to discuss these concerns.
"I was asked to attend a meeting with Mr McAuliffe so I could hear his complaints and I heard those complaints and that was the extent of the interaction," Mayorkas told the committee.
Mayorkas testified that his meeting with McAuliffe had "absolutely not" influenced his decision on Gulf Coast Funds Management's request to extend its geographic reach to Tennessee and Virginia.
"I do remember returning to the office and complaining about how I had to hear complaints," he told the committee.
This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the propriety of executive branch decisions in which a member of the Rodham family and Mr. Mayorkas have played a role. In 2000 while serving as a U.S. Attorney appointed by President Clinton in California, Mr. Mayorkas discussed a prison commutation request made by Horacio Vignali, a wealthy Californian and major Democrat donor, on behalf of his son, Carlos Vignali, with the White House. The younger Vignali was a convicted felon serving a 15 year sentence for dealing cocaine and drug trafficking.
Hillary Clinton's other brother, Hugh Rodham, "had been hired by the donor to lobby for the commutation," according to the Daily Mail.
President Clinton granted Carlos Vignali's commutation request on his last day in office. Vignali was subsequently freed after having served only six years of his fifteen year sentence.
Mr. Mayorkas was asked specifically about his role in this commutation decision by President Clinton.
"The White House reached out to me and asked whether I supported the commutation request," Mayorkas stated. "I informed them that I did not support it... and deference should be given to the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota."
Mayorkas also stated that he had responded similarly when the question was asked in 2009 during confirmation hearings on his nomination to become Director of the USCIS.
Mr. Mayorkas' involvement in the commutation request has been reported differently in earlier press accounts.
In 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported, "Horacio Vignali gained national attention last year as the dedicated father who successfully enlisted Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, former U.S. Atty. Alejandro Mayorkas and a host of elected officials in a longshot bid to win the early release of his son."
According to the Times, the House Committee on Government Reform issued a report in 2002 that was critical of the role Baca and Mayorkas played as "the two law enforcement leaders who helped Vignali persuade Clinton."
The Times reported that Mayorkas acknowledged that "the committee's criticism is fair."
"It is reasonable to expect that someone in my position would do his or her due diligence to learn that information [about the record of both Vignalis]. I made a mistake," Mayorkas said at the time.
President Obama nominated Mr. Mayorkas to become Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on June 27, 2013 before news of the Inspector General's investigation broke.
With the resignation of Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security becoming effective on September 7, Mayorkas, if confirmed as Deputy Secretary, would be Acting Secretary of Homeland Security until President Obama nominates and the Senate confirms a replacement for Secretary Napolitano.
Mayorkas has served as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since 2009, where he has the statutory authority to manage the controversial EB-5 investor program, established by Congress in 1990. Under that program, foreign nationals are able to obtain temporary and permanent resident green card visas for themselves and their immediate family members in return for the investment of a minimum of $500,000 in an American company.
McAuliffe served as chairman of GreenTech Automotive, a company founded by Charles Wang, from 2010 to 2012. The company's decision to locate its electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Mississippi rather than Virginia played a significant role in the first campaign debate in the Virginia gubernatorial contest between Democratic nominee McAuliffe and Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli.
Issues surrounding the financing of GreenTech Automotive are at the center of the political and legal controversy in which the Mayorkas nomination is now entangled. On Monday, the Mississippi Development Authority confirmed that it has disbursed $5 million in loans for the GreenTech Automotive project in Tunica County, Mississippi. Of that disbursement, $3 million was in the form of a direct loan to GreenTech Automotive.
Much of the success of the project, however, is reliant upon equity investments made by foreign investors participating in the EB-5 program; in the case of GreenTech Automotive, it is administered by Gulf Coasts Funds Management, a Department of Homeland Security-designated EB-5 regional center whose president and CEO is Anthony Rodham.
The communications between Anthony Rodham and Mr. Mayorkas are at the center of the Inspector General Office's investigation.