“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.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) legislative affairs official Miguel Rodriguez wrote those words one year ago, steadying himself against the corrupt favor call-in he’d allegedly just been handed down from on high.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had suddenly become interested in the visa status of several Asian investors in the SLS Hotel, an in-process Las Vegas casino redevelopment known, in its Rat-Pack heyday, as the Sahara.
The urban redevelopment project centering on the SLS Hotel is served by the law firm of Lionel, Sawyer & Collins. One of that firm’s shareholders – and a key part of the SLS redevelopment project – is lawyer, former Clark County Commissioner and failed Nevada gubernatorial aspirant Rory Reid.
Rory Reid is also the son of Senator Harry Reid.
The Asian investors attached to the SLS project had applied for visas, but SLS’ efforts at swiftly expediting their applications instead ended in an unequivocal rejection, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declaring the case did not meet criteria for an expedited decision.
According to The Washington Times, which first reported Tuesday on the political connections behind Senator Reid’s intervention with the visa process, “The decision, dated Dec. 17, 2012, stated flatly that ‘there is no appeal or reconsideration of this decision.’”
The Times’ riveting story, which did not mention Rory Reid or his law firm by name, opened a floodgate of fresh diligence from news outlets eager to take their own peek into the political background of the SLS project.
What Nevada journalist Jon Ralston quickly found was Rory Reid.
From Ralston|Reports Thursday:
The SLS hotel/casino, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went out of his way to help, is represented by his son, Rory Reid.
One day after The Washington Times reported that the majority leader had pushed Homeland Security officials to overrule a decision not to award visas to Asian investors in the SLS (where The Sahara once stood), I discovered that Reid’s son was representing the owners at the same time this was occurring in 2012. The majority leader’s office portrayed his intervention, as expected, as Reid just doing his job to help create jobs. But did his son push him to intervene?
Reid’s office says no. “The SLS project creates nearly 9,000 badly needed jobs and has the support of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval,” the majority leader’s spokeswoman, Kristen Orthman, told me. “That is the calculus in Sen. Reid’s support of the project. We have a long-standing office policy that strictly bars any member of the staff’s family or the Senator’s family from lobbying our office on behalf of their clients. That policy applies in this case.”
How does it apply in this case? More to the point, how is that particular standing policy even the one in question? Sure, Rory Reid doesn’t have to pick up his smart phone and txt his dad abt his prblmz wit SLS prjct, but why on Earth would he have to? Orthman said nothing in the Ralston story about Senator Reid’s office having a standing policy that prohibits the Senator from meddling in the affairs of cabinet-level offices on behalf of his son.
If the Times’ email sources tell the whole story, Senator Reid expressly intervened to get a DHS decision reversed:
But that [flat visa rejection] simply prompted Mr. Reid to personally reach out to the top official at USCIS, Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas, setting into motion a process that consumed top political officials inside the Homeland Security and Commerce departments and ultimately resulted in a ruling that granted expedited status to the hotel over the objections of career officials.
“Ali had a call with Sen. Reid on these I-526 cases on Tuesday of this week,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote top officials on Jan. 11. “While no guarantees were made on the call, Ali did promise the Senator that USCIS would take a ‘fresh look’ at the expedited request.”
Government officials did a lot more than give a fresh look — forwarding from Mr. Reid’s office the names of people involved with the hotel project that could help the federal agency change its mind on the expedited status request. Mr. Reid’s staff repeatedly made the case that the hotel would lose its potential funding for its renovation if Homeland Security’s USCIS didn’t expedite the visas.
Orthman cited 9,000 reasons – “badly needed jobs” – as well as the prior support of Nevada’s Republican Governor to suggest a justification for Senator Reid’s sudden involvement. There are, perhaps, at least 300 million more reasons she didn’t cite: the $300 million financial instrument Rory Reid’s firm helped SLS secure, either in part or in whole, through the Asian investors – financial backers whose visa status dictated whether their money “could be brought into the country and paired with the JP Morgan financing to underwrite the renovation of the hotel,” according to the emails obtained by The Washington Times.