Homeland security pick’s remarks questioned

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The man in charge of a controversial immigrant visa program under FBI review has more to worry about than just a criminal investigation into his alleged attempts to influence a visa application on behalf of a political insider.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas has made multiple statements to Congress in recent months that could be seen as misleading, if not demonstrably false, according to committee reports, his own testimony and letters from a prominent U.S. senator.

President Obama earlier this year nominated Mr. Mayorkas to be deputy secretary of homeland security, but the nomination seems stalled amid a criminal investigation by the agency’s inspector general and questions about the candor of his Senate testimony.

Testifying in July before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Mr. Mayorkas “contradicted” what he had previously told Senate Judiciary Committee staff about his contacts with Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, who was seeking approval of an EB-5 visa for a Chinese investor, according to an Aug. 23 letter from Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Mayorkas has faced difficult questions in the past.

During his recent confirmation hearing, he was asked about his role in a Clinton-era scandal in which politically connected former officials lobbied the White House for grants of clemency for Carlos Vignali, a convicted drug trafficker, among others.

In a 2002 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Mr. Mayorkas said he conveyed to the White House the pleas of Horacio Vignali, whose son had been convicted and sentenced to 15 years for drug trafficking.

“While Mayorkas does not recall the details of his conversation, he now concedes that his call [to The White House] conveyed support for the Vignali commutation,” the committee concluded. “Mayorkas supported the Vignali commutation despite his ignorance of the facts of the case and his knowledge that the prosecutors responsible for the Vignali case opposed clemency.”

But crucial details of the account — most notably whether he contacted the White House or officials reached out to him — appear to have shifted over time.

In 2009, when he was being confirmed as director of citizenship services agency, Mr. Mayorkas testified that “it was a mistake” to talk to the White House about the clemency request.

Asked again about the subject during his most recent confirmation hearing, Mr. Mayorkas said the White House reached out to him and he told officials he did not support the commutation and that officials should defer to the prosecutor who handled the case.

B. Todd Jones, then the U.S. attorney in Minnesota who prosecuted Vignali and is now director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told committee investigators in 2002 that he emphasized to Mr. Mayorkas at the time that the younger Vignali was “bad news,” and that he should not “go there” in supporting clemency.

Staff at the homeland security committee said no votes or other actions were scheduled on Mr. Mayorkas‘ nomination, but in a statement emailed to The Washington Times, Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat and committee chairman, said he was determined to press ahead with confirmation.

“Everything I have learned about Director Mayorkas — whether it was recommendations from his former colleagues, [or] my extensive reviews of his FBI files, has convinced me that he is highly qualified for the job,” he said.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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