Amid “alarms about national security,” the head of the federal office investigating a controversial visa-investor program used by Terry McAuliffe’s company is now himself a target of congressional investigation.
Charles Edwards, interim inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, faces allegations of misconduct, including misusing official resources and exerting undue influence.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee have demanded his resignation or firing.
The calls come as Edwards’ office is conducting two investigations into the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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An audit of USCIS’ handling of the EB-5 visa-investor program — which one senator said “raises alarms about national security” — is expected soon. That will be followed by a review of USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas’ dealings with EB-5 “regional centers,” including GreenTech Automotive’s Gulf Coast Funds Management, headed by Hillary Clinton’s brother, Anthony Rodham.
Independently, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating Gulf Coast, the funding arm of the electric-car company formerly chaired by McAuliffe, Virginia’s governor-elect.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, fired a shot across the inspector general’s bow this week, stating:
The Office of Inspector General’s work on Mr. Mayorkas and the EB-5 program must be beyond reproach in order to have credibility.
The leadership of this particular (IG) office has definitely seen its share of problems,” said Grassley, the.
Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security Committee have stalled President Obama’s nomination of Mayorkas to be deputy secretary of DHS. They say they are awaiting the IG’s findings before voting.
Without naming Mayorkas, Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said he is eager to “expeditiously” confirm additional pending nominees at DHS.
Dan Epstein, executive director Cause of Action, an activist group that calls interactions of McAuliffe’s company with top administration officials “cronyism,” sees political stumbling blocks to removing Edwards as IG, telling WINA radio on Tuesday:
As we sit here today, Republicans want a full and fair investigation. But Edwards is the one they are depending on to do the investigation, when he himself is under investigation.
Though Edwards denies the allegations against him, U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., say he must go. Said Johnson:
This summer, we began investigating allegations of misconduct by Charles Edwards. Since then, dozens of whistleblowers have come forward. It is clear at this point that Charles Edwards should resign.
McCaskill, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, cited reports that Edwards succumbed to political pressure in papering over the 2012 Secret Service scandal involving agents and prostitutes in Colombia. On Wednesday, she expressed frustration at the “inability to obtain a clean audit” from the IG’s office.
“Inspectors general are required to act as internal agency watchdogs to save taxpayers’ money, investigate corruption and punish wrongdoing,” Epstein told the Washington Times. “Edwards has failed to do his job on all fronts.”
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, stressed the irony:
Mr. Mayorkas faces allegations of misusing the Immigrant Investor visa program, which he oversees and continues to lead, while he continues to run U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. Mayorkas — nominee for the No. 2 position at DHS — is currently under investigation by the DHS Inspector General’s office, which itself does not have [a permanent IG] in its top post and whose current leader is also under investigation.
Jeh Johnson, Obama’s nominee to head DHS, was peppered with EB-5 questions during a confirmation hearing at the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.
Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, the top Republican on the panel, said the “investor visa program raises alarms about national security” and pressed Johnson to “publicly commit to respond to congressional inquiries in a timely manner.”
Johnson responded loosely that he was “inclined to give you what you need.” Both Carper and Coburn said more EB-5 queries will come from the committee.
Johnson, a former lead attorney at the Pentagon, did not address the Edwards matter, but pledged to “devote time and attention to management issues.”
“Sometimes the bureaucracy can be totally wrong,” he testified.
Grassley, who has compiled detailed questions and concerns about the administration of EB-5, including multiple correspondences between McAuliffe and top DHS officials, is watching.
Whether the White House — solely empowered to terminate the IG — lets Edwards stay or cuts him loose, Grassley concluded, “Ultimately, the work of the career employees must be judged on its own merits, so we’ll have to see the final product before making any judgments.”