Alejandro Mayorkas, President Obama's nominee to be the No. 2 official at the Department of Homeland Security is under investigation for his role in helping a company operated by a brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bypass a rejected visa application to secure entry for a wealthy Chinese investor, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. The news reignited concerns about China's investments in the U.S.
Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), reportedly helped push the visa request through the federal government's EB-5 program, according to congressional officials briefed on the investigation. The primary complaint against Mayorkas is that he helped Gulf Coast Funds Management LLC in McLean, Va., run by Anthony Rodham, win approval for the investor visa, even after the application was denied and an appeal was rejected. Officials, in an email sent to lawmakers Monday, spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the probe.
The EB-5 program allows foreigners to obtain visas if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for U.S. citizens. The amount of the investment required depends on the type of project. Investors who are approved for the program can become legal permanent residents after two years and can later become eligible for U.S. citizenship.
Mayorkas was named by Homeland Security's Inspector General's Office as a target in an ongoing investigation involving the foreign-investor program, which is run by USCIS, according to the email.
The email did not specify any possible criminal activity it might be probing. "At this point in our investigation," the office said in the missive, "we do not have any findings of criminal misconduct."
When asked about the investigation, White House press secretary Jay Carney referred questions to the inspector general's office, which said that the probe is in its preliminary stage and that it doesn't comment on the specifics of investigations.
If Mayorkas is confirmed as Homeland Security's deputy secretary, he would likely run the department until a permanent replacement were approved to take over for departing Secretary Janet Napolitano.
A former U.S. attorney in California, Mayorkas had previously been criticized for lobbying former President Bill Clinton to commute the prison sentence of the son of a Democratic Party donor. Mayorkas told lawmakers during his 2009 confirmation hearing that "it was a mistake" to talk to the White House about the request, which Clinton did approve.
Hillary Clinton, who stepped down as secretary of state on Feb. 1, is considered a possible contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
According to the Inspector General's email, the investigation of the investor-visa program also includes allegations that other USCIS Office of General Counsel officials obstructed an audit of the program by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The email did not name any specific official from the general counsel's office.
The email also states that investigators do not know whether Mayorkas was aware of the investigation. The FBI's Washington Field Office was told about the investigation in June after it inquired about Mayorkas as part of the White House background investigation for his nomination as deputy DHS secretary.
The investigation into Mayorkas' actions highlights concerns the FBI in Washington has had about the investor-visa program and the projects funded by foreign sources -- particularly China -- since at least March, according to emails obtained by the AP.
The bureau has requested details of all of the limited-liability companies that have invested in the EB-5 visa program. Of particular concern, an FBI official wrote in an email, was Chinese investment projects, including the building of an FBI facility.
"Let's just say that we have a significant issue that my higher ups are really concerned about and this may be addressed way above my pay grade," the official wrote. The FBI official's name was redacted.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent the FBI a lengthy letter Tuesday asking for details of its review of the foreign investor visa program and Chinese investment in U.S. infrastructure projects.
In September, the Obama administration blocked a Chinese company from owning four wind farm projects in northern Oregon that were near a Navy base used to fly unmanned drones and electronic-warfare planes on training missions. And in October, the House Intelligence Committee warned that two leading Chinese technology firms, Huawei Technologies Ltd. and ZTE Corp., posed a major security threat to the U.S. Both firms have denied being influenced by the Chinese government.
Chinese investors are the most frequent applicants to the EB-5 program. According to an undated, unclassified State Department report about the program obtained by the AP, the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, processed more investor visas in the 2011 fiscal year than any other consulate or embassy. The document says "applicants are usually coached and prepped for their interviews, making it difficult to take at face value applicants' claims" about where their money comes from and whether they hold membership in the Chinese Communist Party. Party membership would make an applicant ineligible for the investor visa.
Anthony Rodham's company, Gulf Coast Funds Management, is one of hundreds that pool investments from foreign nationals looking to invest in U.S. businesses or industries as part of the foreign investor visa program.
There was no immediate response to an email sent to Gulf Coast requesting comment.
It is unclear from the IG's email why the investor's initial visa application was denied. Visa requests can be denied for a number of reasons, including a circumstance where an applicant has a criminal background or is considered a threat to national security or public safety.