A Democratic lawmaker objected to the swearing in of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Thursday at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing examining allegations that Mayorkas violated ethics rules during his tenure as head of USCIS.
As the hearing began Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) swore Mayorkas in, saying, “Given the nature of this case today, I would like to swear in the witness.”
After Mayorkas took the oath and sat back down, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) took issue with the action.
“I just want to state for the record that I really don’t understand the necessity of swearing in the under secretary when we had the inspector general who generated this — the reason for our being here in the first place — and we never once asked him to be sworn in,” Watson Coleman said.
Last month the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General John Roth issued a report accusing Mayorkas of using his position as then head of USCIS to intervene and provide preferential treatment in the issuance of EB-5 visas on behalf of prominent Democrats — including Harry Reid, Terry McAuliffe, and Anthony Rodham (brother of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) — in three specific instances.
Mayorkas disputes that he engaged in misconduct.
McCaul responded to Watson Coleman that the rules of the committee allow the chairman to swear in those witnesses he deems to be “appropriate.”
“I think given the serious allegations generated by the inspector general’s report warrant the swearing in of this witness in particular and I, again, am giving the witness an opportunity to explain his side of the story,” McCaul said.
Watson Coleman argued again that the inspector general was not sworn in during an earlier hearing on the matter and that the chairman is relying on his word, saying it is an “unusual situation.”
“I think when you talk about potential breach of ethics and integrity policy that have an impact on our nation’s security, as it impacts the entry of foreign nationals into the united states, Madam, that this morning’s swearing in is perfectly appropriate,” McCaul responded.
“And I want to say that it’s important this committee exercise its oversight responsibilities and let the witness know how serious these accusations are by the inspector general. And, therefore, I think it’s entirely appropriate not only is it appropriate, it is deemed under the House of Representatives’ rules in this Congress and this committee’s rules to have a swearing in process,” he added.
The top Democrat on the committee Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) defended the Democrat, calling the IG’s report “incomplete.”
“I don’t think there’s any reason for you to be concerned about Ms. Watson Coleman’s drawing the distinction between an assertion that the inspector general made from an incomplete report and now we bring the number two person in the department, we swear him in and that obviously is a rule, but she was just saying that in her view it was inconsistent,” Thompson said to McCaul.
“It has nothing to do with terrorists or foreign fighters. She only spoke to the procedure of swearing in the witness,” he added noting that “Ms. Watson Coleman as a member of the committee is within her right” to voice her concerns.
McCaul concluded that swearing Mayorkas in was absolutely appropriate given the issues at hand.
“Because of the extraordinary nature of this hearing and the issues at hand as I stated at the beginning, I believe that swearing the witness in was entirely appropriate in this case. I don’t think the American people would think it was not. I think the American people expect this from our government officials at the highest levels to be sworn in to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And I actually believe, Mr. Mayorkas himself agrees with that assertion. I believe that he will tell the truth at this hearing today,” McCaul said.
Thompson noted that regardless of whether a witness is sworn in, it is illegal to lie to Congress, to which McCaul concurred.