That story in the Washington Times about the Justice Department thwarting efforts to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Utah Sen. Mike Lee reminds me that it has been three months since an ethics complaint was filed against Reid.
That too has gone nowhere.
In fact, I can’t find a single reference to the complaint in any Nevada news outlet.
According to the Times, Justice’s public integrity section rejected FBI agents’ efforts to seat a federal grand jury and subpoena witnesses.
Among the allegations against Reid is that money from online poker advocates prompted him to do an about-face on his opposition to online poker and come out in favor of it shortly after his re-election in 2010. He even introduced a bill to legalize online poker, though it has not gone anywhere.
A Utah newspaper last year published a recorded conversation between businessman Jeremy Johnson, who is under a federal indictment, and one-time Utah Attorney General John Swallow following a 2010 fundraiser at which Reid announced his support of online poker.
Johnson told Swallow after Reid left that he pulled aside an online poker backer and asked about the change in stance by Reid.
Johnson asked the person, “How in the hell did you guys get him to do that?”
The backer reportedly said, “Let’s just say he got a little something in his retirement fund.”
That aforementioned ethics complaint was filed Dec. 16 by Cause of Action, a group that says it advocates for government accountability.
The complaint accuses Reid of using his influence to overturn decisions by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to deny visas to foreigners who planned to lend financial support to the renovation of the Sahara Hotel, now renamed the SLS. Such visas are granted to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in American projects that create jobs. The agency had turned down the SLS investor visa applications due to “suspicious financial activity.” The decision was ineligible for appeal.
One official reported getting into a shouting match with a Reid staffer over the denial of those visas.
“This one is going to be a major headache for us all because Sen. Reid’s office/staff is pushing hard and I just had a long yelling match on the phone,” that official wrote in an email. That official was later called by Reid himself, seeking the help of the agency’s head, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Soon after that the agency expedited visas for about two dozen foreign investors. The Washington Times reported that Federal Election Commission records show executives for two companies involved in the hotel project had made $127,000 in political donations over the previous three elections, mostly to Democrats.
“Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Senator Reid’s efforts to lobby USCIS resulted in the reconsideration and approval of those applications …” the complaint says. “Even more troublesome is the fact that Senator Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins P.C., are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel and Casino.”
Cause of Action points out that the U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct permits members to assist people with executive branch agencies, but it also says:
“The decision to provide assistance to petitioners may not be made on the basis of contributions or services, or promises of contributions or services, to the Member’s political campaigns or to other organizations in which the Member has a political, personal, or financial interest.”
The complaint also notes that visa recipients are allowed to contribute to political campaigns.
“The American people deserve better,” says the letter from Cause of Action’s Executive Director Daniel Epstein. “It is unfair for politicians to attempt to influence the enforcement of our laws, especially when they — or their close family members — stand to benefit. Even more importantly, such unethical efforts threaten the integrity of our immigration system and our national security.”
The letter concludes by requesting an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer chairs that committee.
Four days after that complaint was filed, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to become the second in command at the Department of Homeland Security. The vote was 54-41.
Had Reid not just changed the Senate rules the nomination would have failed to achieve the previously required 60 votes.
Mayorkas was confirmed despite the fact he was under investigation at the time for expediting certain visa applications for certain applicants despite the rejection of those visas by career staffers. Among those seeking foreign investors were now-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Anthony Rodham. They were after visas for investors in an energy-efficient car company.
Sen. Reid made a personal call to Mayorkas, according to the Washington Times, who promised him his agency would take a “fresh look” at the visa request. Soon after, visas were expedited. Hotel project had groundbreaking. Senator changed filibuster rules for presidential nominees so only a simple majority was required. Mayorkas won confirmation on a simple majority vote.
What a coincidence.
And surely it is merely a coincidence that nothing has come of the complaint or the Utah investigation or the fact no Nevada news outlet is reporting on either.