E-mails: ‘Political pressure’ in Gulf Coast visa case
President Obama’s pick to be the next No. 2 at the Department of Homeland Security was involved in “political pressure” to influence a visa case linked to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s former car company, according to e-mails released Friday — documents that may contradict testimony nominee Alejandro Mayorkas gave last month to a Senate committee.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who last month sent a broad range of questions to Mr. Mayorkas about the EB-5 visa program, where foreign investors put up between $500,000 and $1 million for job-creating American companies in exchange for legal status, writes that Mr. Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), sent him a letter July 25 saying he “had not used [his] position to benefit any particular party or individual.”
But Mr. Grassley, citing whistleblowers, wrote in a letter dated August 9 that in the summer of 2011, while USCIS’s appeals office was drafting an opinion on a visa application from Gulf Coast Funds Management, “you went beyond merely monitoring or influencing the process, seeking to personally take control of the opinion. In a meeting of USCIS employees, including [appeals office] staff, you allegedly said: ‘Give it to me, I’ll write the f–ing thing myself.’”
DHS is currently investigating whether Mr. Mayorkas used undue influence in pushing through a visa application for Gulf Coast after it had been denied and an appeal rejected. Gulf Coast processes the visas on behalf of GreenTech Automotive, which Mr. McAuliffe founded in 2009.
An internal e-mail also has a USCIS employee writing that the appeals office “had discovered some add’l dirt on GCFM and that the decision was probably not going to play out as Ali had hoped given his political pressure to overturn the previous draft. The add’l dirt had something to do with $ changing hands in a non-EB-5 compliant way but [redacted] did not get into specifics.”
The employee goes on to voice his concern about the potential of putting politics above the law in the case.
“If there are new aspects of this situation that we are unaware of, and unresolved material issues that we are aware of, then we are setting ourselves up for a fall by pushing to approve these cases,” the employee writes. “We simply cannot approve based on politics instead of eligibility under the law.”
Another USCIS employee then responded that “this is the darn [appeals] decision that Ali wanted to rewrite. Got it.”
“Please explain how this additional evidence is consistent with your claim that your involvement was limited to one meeting with Terry McAuliffe where you merely listened to his complaints,” Mr. Grassley wrote, demanding a comprehensive reply by August 20.
GreenTech and Gulf Coast have become flash points in the Virginia governor’s race between Mr. McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II. Mr. McAuliffe founded GreenTech in 2009, but its production levels and number of jobs created have fallen well short of projections. The Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) is also investigating whether GreenTech allegedly guaranteed returns for its investors.
Mr. McAuliffe left the company in December 2012, though that fact was not publicly revealed until April. Both GreenTech and Gulf Coast have acknowledged the SEC investigation and say they are complying with requests for information. Mr. McAuliffe has said he didn’t learn of the investigation until reading about it in media reports.
In a statement, Mr. McAuliffe praised the EB-5 program in general as an economic boon.
“There has been widespread frustration, however, both inside and outside USCIS about the bureaucracy there and the pace of the investment program,” he said. “Like many business leaders and political officials from both parties, I was among those who expressed frustration on several occasions to multiple individuals. I never asked for any preferential treatment, nor did I ever expect to receive any.”
Indeed, the documents released Friday also indicate that Gulf Coast was in the process of returning money to investors at the time, apparently because their applications were not going through.
A Gulf Coast attorney wrote to Mr. Mayorkas in an August 2011 email that the company “is in the process of returning funds to the initial investors who have requested to be pulled out of the project due to the delays. Any news on your end would be great as I need to call Terry back to update him.”
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