Newspaper column: Now Democrats find fault with visa program that Reid abused

Democrats are highly selective about the things that send them into high dudgeon.

Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said this past week that Congress should end the EB-5 visa program that grants visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in job-creating projects in the U.S., calling it a “citizenship-for-sale” program.

Her umbrage was prompted by reports that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s sister mentioned the visa program to potential Chinese investors in a family-owned project.

Where was the outrage four years ago when Nevada Sen. Harry Reid twisted arms at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reverse a decision that was blocking EB-5 visas for Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino with ties to Reid’s son Rory?

An ethics complaint was filed against Reid, then Senate Democratic majority leader, but it was buried in the bureaucracy.

The SLS built with foreign investment money (USA Today pix)

In fact, 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. Mayorkas was the one who granted the visas after personally talking to Reid. The vote was 54-41. Had Reid not just nuked the Senate filibuster 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 visa applications for certain applicants despite the rejection of those visas by career staffers.

Reid had made a personal call to Mayorkas in January 2013, according to the Washington Times, and Mayorkas promised him his agency would take a “fresh look” at the SLS hotel and casino visa request. Soon after that the agency expedited visas for about two dozen foreign SLS casino, formerly the Sahara, investors. The 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.

The ethics complaint by Cause of Action said, “Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Senator Reid’s efforts to lobby USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) resulted in the reconsideration and approval of those applications … 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.”

The U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct 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.”

Homeland’s Inspector General issued a report in March 2015 accusing Mayorkas of showing favoritism and providing special access to EB-5 visas for Democrats —  specifically Harry Reid, Terry McAuliffe and Anthony Rodham, brother of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Instead of attacking, as Democrats are doing with Trump’s kin, the Obama administration circled the wagons. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Mayorkas had been “impatient with our sluggish government bureaucracy.” It wasn’t sluggish. The expedited visas were denied and that decision was, according to agency rules, not appealable.

Later an ICE agent who tried to block the SLS visas was fired. She refused to accept a $100,000 severance package that would have required non-disclosure and testified before Congress about the abuses of the EB-5 program. She later accepted an undisclosed settlement.

The agent testified that EB-5 visas were approved in as little as 16 days and “lacked basic necessary law enforcement” screening.

She told Congress: “In 2013, after disclosing gross mismanagement, waste and fraud that threatened the general public’s safety, National Security Risks and public corruption surrounding an EB-5 project, I was subjected to a significant amount of harassment and retaliation. … Some of the violations I was investigating surrounding this EB-5 project include Title 18 statues; Major Fraud, Money Laundering, Bank and Wire fraud. In addition, I had discovered ties to Organized crime and high ranking officials and politicians, who received large campaign contributions that appeared to have facilitat(ed) the EB-5 project.”

Back then nothing could be heard from Democrats over the chirping of crickets, but now Feinstein ruminates that it is “crystal clear that the EB-5 regional center program presents a stark conflict of interest for the Trump White House.”

Reid got a pass and a coverup, but Trump is not a fellow Democrat.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The wrath of Democrats … continued

ICE Agent Taylor Johnson testifies before Congress. (AP photo via ABC)

Fraudulently manipulate waiting lists, leaving ailing veterans to die? Get a promotion.

Investigate conservative groups seeking tax exemptions? Ho hum.

Jeopardize national security and the lives of overseas operatives by flagrantly using an unsecured email server? Run for president.

Actually do your job and try to block a powerful Washington senator from bending the law to benefit his family and cronies? Get fired, smeared and offered a bribe to keep quiet.

The Daily Caller reports that a Department of Homeland Security agent who tried to block the government handing out green cards to foreign investors with questionable backgrounds — including some who invested in a Las Vegas hotel and casino with ties to Rory Reid, son of Sen. Harry Reid — has been fired, but she refused to accept a $100,000 severance payment that was conditional on her signing a non-disclosure agreement.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Taylor Johnson told Congress this past year that she found gross mismanagement and possible corruption in a program that hands out U.S. visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in American companies. She described the abuse as a threat to public safety.

She also said her investigation was shut down and her firearm and credentials confiscated.

A Daily Caller reporter says an ICE press secretary approached him with what she claimed to be confidential information showing Johnson was dishonest in an effort to smear the soon-to-be former employee. Of course, now those officials are mum because it is a personnel matter.

As for Reid’s involvement, in December 2013 Cause of Action, a group that says it advocates for government accountability, filed an ethics complaint against Reid. The complaint has been ignored.

The complaint accused Reid of using his influence to overturn decisions by ICE that denied visas to foreigners who planned to lend financial support to the renovation of the Sahara Hotel, the now renamed and reopened SLS. 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.

But that Cause of Action complaint was filed before all the chips were on the table.

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. He was the one who granted the visas after personally talking to Reid. The vote was 54-41. Had Reid not just nuked the Senate rules of filibuster 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 Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Anthony Rodham.

Reid had made a personal call to Mayorkas, according to the Washington Times, who promised him his agency would take a “fresh look” at the SLS visa request. Soon after that the agency expedited visas for about two dozen foreign SLS 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.

The Cause of Action complaint said, “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 … 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.”

The Senate Code of Official Conduct prohibits members from acting on matters that in which they have “a political, personal, or financial interest.”

Johnson testified that EB-5 visas were approved in as little 16 days and without “lacked basic necessary law enforcement” screening.

ABC News, in its own investigation, found foreign visa applicants were approved despite “allegations of fraud, money laundering, forgery, and other crimes against them.”

Taylor testimony:

 

 

 

Harry Reid accused of violating code of conduct … so what’s new?

A year ago the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the owners of the Sahara hotel, now renamed SLS Las Vegas, had obtained the last piece of the $415 million in financing needed to renovate the Strip resort.

The story included a statement from Nevada’s senior senator, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said the investment in SLS “will create thousands of jobs, infuse millions into the local economy, and help bring new energy to the north end of the Strip.” It went on to say that Reid said he has supported the project “from the outset and am so pleased that SLS Las Vegas is officially breaking ground.”

Sahara to become SLS (R-J photo)

Just how supportive Reid was came out in December in an exclusive story from The Washington Times, which reported that Homeland Security had denied visas for some of those investors from Asia because of “suspicious financial activity.” That decision was ineligible for appeal.

According to the Times account, one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 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 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.

Less than a week after the Times report, though it has gone largely unreported until Watchdog.org picked up on it, Cause for Action filed an ethics complaint against Reid.

“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, adding that the recipients of the investments were major contributors to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. “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 points out 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.

This is hardly the first time Reid has been accused of helping friends and family.

Sen. Reid in 2012 pressed NV Energy to purchase power from a solar generating facility that would be built in Laughlin if it could get power contract. The company was ENN Energy Group from China and it was represented by Rory Reid and Lionel, Sawyer.

Reid helped recruit the company to come to Nevada during a trip to China.

ENN obtained county public land for a fraction of appraised value. Rory Reid had been chairman of the County Commission. The project failed and the land reverted to the county, despite the senior Reid’s efforts.

According to Peter Schweizer, writing for Fox News in 2012, “Sen. Reid has sponsored at least $47 million in earmarks that directly benefitted organizations that one of his sons, Key Reid, either lobbies for or is affiliated with.”

And are just the latest allegations. With Reid there is a target rich environment.