Many of the key figures cited in a scathing inspector general’s report this week are allies of Hillary Rodham Clinton, marking the latest in a series of stumbles for the former first lady and secretary of state that likely forced her to delay her planned presidential campaign announcement.
A Democratic strategist familiar with her team’s thinking said they are scrambling to limit the damage and readjust the campaign rollout schedule after the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general revealed an apparent cronyism scandal that ensnared Mrs. Clinton’s brother, Anthony Rodham, and two of her political confidants, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.
The accusation that a top Obama administration official did favors for the three politically connected Democrats follows other damaging revelations swirling around Mrs. Clinton, including that the Clinton Foundation pocketed foreign donations while she was secretary of state and that she exclusively used a private email account that concealed official business while she was in office.
“She is being tarnished before the race starts. It’s kind of like if you’re a race horse having a leg broken on a regular basis and the wound never heals,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic campaign adviser who worked for President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign.
“Every time there is a piece of news like this, it delays the announcement,” he said. “You can’t announce when you’re facing that kind of controversy and you have to respond to those kinds of questions rather than deal with what you intend to do with the campaign and talk about the issues you want to discuss.”
Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman refused to answer questions about the inspector general’s findings.
Mr. Sheinkopf predicted that more accusations will hit the Clintons, who have weathered a lifetime of political scandals.
“There’s going to be more,” he said.
Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, agreed.
“The Clinton scandal-rama continues, as it has for decades,” he said. “The unanswered question is whether voters have already factored in scandal when judging Hillary. Is it possible to alter dramatically a long-fixed image? We’ll all find out.”
The inspector general’s report detailed how a top Obama administration official appeared to give “favoritism and special access” to politically connected Democrats who intervened in the application process for the EB-5 visa program, which grants visas to wealthy foreigners who invest in American business ventures.
Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alehandro Mayorkas, whom President Obama promoted even while he was under investigation, meddled in three cases involving Mr. Rodham, Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Rendell, as well as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Mr. Rodham and Mr. McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who helped run presidential campaigns for Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, were deeply involved in the GreenTech electric car company. They contacted Mr. Mayorkas, who pushed for approval despite career officials who wanted to deny it, according to the report.
Mr. Mayorkas also meddled in a 2011 movie project called LA Films, according to the report, which Mr. Rendell was pushing on behalf of an investment firm where he was a paid consultant.
Mr. Rendell on Wednesday told reporters that he never asked for special treatment, and he backed up Mr. Mayorkas’ claim that he was taking a “hands-on” approach only to fix a dysfunctional system.
“We never asked Alejandro to do anything other than speed up the decision-making process,” he said in a conference call from Miami. “The program was a mess.”
He complained that the investigators never interviewed him, which he called “a little disappointing” and “a little strange.”
The report did not indicate all who were interviewed, though it noted that attempts to interview Mr. McAuliffe were unsuccessful.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest also defended Mr. Mayorkas, saying he hasn’t been disciplined because he is an exemplary leader who is needed to carry out reforms of the visa program.
He said people in both parties have asked Mr. Mayorkas for “assistance” to make the EB-5 visa program work better. “Certainly we would expect the department to do that under the leadership of Mr. Mayorkas,” he said.
Still, the fallout from the report will continue.
The House Homeland Security Committee will convene a hearing Thursday to question the report’s author, Inspector General John Roth.
The government watchdog group Cause of Action is pushing for a federal investigation into the action by Mr. Mayorkas and all others involved.
“At a minimum, there needs to be a federal investigation,” said Daniel Epstein, executive director of the group. “Alejandro Mayorkas, Harry Reid, Terry McAuliffe and the others essentially conspired to defraud the United States.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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