- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2015

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday that he won’t fire his deputy for showing favoritism to high-profile Democrats in key immigration cases, insisting that the problem lay not with Alejandro Mayorkas but rather with a broken visa program.

Mr. Johnson’s refusal comes even as John Roth, the inspector general who investigated Mr. Mayorkas, said the former chief of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services broke the rules that he himself issued when he took control of the agency in 2009.

Republicans on Capitol Hill said they are stunned that Mr. Johnson hasn’t done more to discipline Mr. Mayorkas in light of the findings, which called the deputy’s involvement in three cases “unprecedented” and raised questions about whether Mr. Mayorkas was forthcoming with investigators.

“I just don’t get it,” said Rep. David Young, an Iowa Republican who prodded Mr. Johnson to levy a stiffer penalty against Mr. Mayorkas than the talking-to Mr. Johnson said he delivered after the report was released Tuesday.

Even as Mr. Johnson was defending Mr. Mayorkas in one committee room, Mr. Roth was telling another committee that Mr. Mayorkas “violated an ethical standard” with his behavior, which set off alarms for a striking number of employees who became whistleblowers.

“The career staff perceived that there was a political component to Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention,” Mr. Roth told the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mr. Johnson acknowledged the broken trust with employees but said he hoped steps he took this week to revamp the visa program would help rebuild relationships.

He flatly rejected calls for punishment.

“He has been a valuable member of the team, definitely value-added, and it would be a big loss to the men and women of our department if he were not full time, fully engaged, occupying his job,” Mr. Johnson said.

The investigation Mr. Roth released Tuesday began years ago, when Mr. Mayorkas was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that approves applications for legal immigration. Whistleblowers said Mr. Mayorkas gave special treatment to some Democrats who were advocating for EB-5 investor visas for companies they backed.

Mr. Roth identified three cases: one involving Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat; one involving former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell; and one involving former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who has since become governor of Virginia.

In each instance, Mr. Mayorkas stepped in, overruled career staff or changed the usual procedures and helped out the Democrats.

In his report, Mr. Roth also pointed to several instances in which Mr. Mayorkas denied to investigators that phone calls had been made, when there were in fact records of those calls, and other instances in which Mr. Mayorkas said he was responding to prods from superiors when investigators couldn’t find any evidence of those requests.

Mr. Mayorkas has vehemently rebutted the charges, saying he got involved in the three cases because the system was breaking down, not because he was trying to aid important Democrats.

Mr. Johnson, speaking to the House Appropriations Committee to defend his department’s budget, said the problem wasn’t Mr. Mayorkas as much as it was a broken EB-5 program, which doles out legal immigration status to wealthy foreigners who can show that their investments of $500,000 or $1 million would create jobs in the U.S.

Mr. Johnson acknowledged that his department needs to work “to be above reproach, and appearances also do matter,” but said he hoped the changes he made to the EB-5 program will help regain confidence of the employees who complained about Mr. Mayorkas.

Despite saying Mr. Mayorkas did nothing wrong, Mr. Johnson said he has issued new orders governing how and when senior officials are allowed to be involved in EB-5 decisions.

Mr. Johnson’s decisions are unlikely to be the end of the matter.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, wrote a letter Thursday demanding that the secretary hold Mr. Mayorkas accountable beyond a talking-to.

Mr. Grassley said Mr. Mayorkas was breaking his own ethics guidelines issued when he became chief of USCIS in 2009. He instructed employees to avoid “situations that could be, or appear to be, preferential treatment” — exactly the charge the inspector general leveled against Mr. Mayorkas.

Mr. Grassley said he tried to slow Mr. Mayorkas’ 2013 promotion to be homeland security deputy secretary in order to get to the bottom of the accusations, but Democrats insisted on speeding the appointment through, at the urging of Mr. Johnson. Mr. Grassley said that now puts the burden on Mr. Johnson to take disciplinary action.

The top Democrats the inspector general named as having exerted influence over Mr. Mayorkas have said they were just lobbying for their concerns and have denied putting undue pressure on him.

Speaking to WRVA radio Thursday, Mr. McAuliffe pointed out that his lobbying came before he was governor and said he believed the bureaucrats at USCIS had been taking too long to make a decision. He said he was pressuring Mr. Mayorkas to make a final decision, but it was up to the agency chief to decide whether to approve the visas or not.

“I pick up the phone and I raise heck. I do what I think is right, and people should do what they say they’re going to do,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “Accept, reject — I don’t care. Do something.”

⦁ David Sherfinski and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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