In a letter sent to Senators Murkowski and Cantwell, the Western Values Project called on the Senate to delay a confirmation vote for David Bernhardt, nominee for the position of Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior. The letter comes after the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia arguing that Bernhardt may have violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
Western Values Project’s analysis of new emails released yesterday in response to an open records request indicate that Mr. Bernhardt may have lied to Congress when he responded to a question for the record from Ranking Member Maria Cantwell on May 18, 2017. It is the duty of Congress to investigate.
A copy of the letter can be found here.
Dear Chairwoman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell:
As you may be aware, earlier today, Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia requesting an investigation into whether David Bernhardt, nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior, violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Western Values Project also has discovered that Mr. Bernhardt may not have provided truthful answers in response to questions submitted to him by this Committee. Therefore, Western Values Project respectfully requests that a vote on Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination be delayed until a full investigation of this matter has been conducted.
The complaint against Mr. Bernhardt was based on emails recently uncovered that show Mr. Bernhardt continued to advise Westlands Water District on legislative affairs after he withdrew his registration as a lobbyist for the organization on November 18, 2016.
If Mr. Bernhardt did, indeed, violate the Lobbying Disclosure Act, he also may have committed the additional violation of lying to Congress.
On May 18, 2017, in response to a question for the record from Ranking Member Maria Cantwell regarding whether Mr. Bernhardt continued to advise any members of Congress or congressional staff on behalf of the Westlands Water District, Mr. Bernhardt responded, I have not engaged in regulated lobbying on behalf of Westlands Water District after November 18th, 2016.”
E-mails that first came to light after E&E News reported on the results of a public records request seem to contradict this statement. Specifically, the emails show the following:
On November 22, 2016, David Bernhardt confirmed he could attend a conference call concerning “legislation for next year” with a Westlands representative and two members of Congress, Rep. Devin Nunes and Rep. David Valadao.
On November 22, 2016, Westlands Water District’s Deputy General Manager for External Affairs, Johnny Amaral, asked David Bernhardt if he was available to call into a meeting “with David Valadao and Devin Nunes” to “talk about legislation for next year.” Bernhardt responded “Yes, but we need legislation for this year.” [See Exhibit 1]
On November 30, 2016, David Bernhardt confirmed his availability for a conference call that day with Rep. Devin Nunes’s Chief of Staff Anthony Ratekin.
On November 30, 2016, Westlands Water District’s Deputy General Manager for External Affairs, Johnny Amaral, asked David Bernhardt if he had “time to do a call with [him] and Anthony Ratekin from Nunes office… around 9:15 PST” Bernhardt replied that he would only have 15 minutes, and when further asked if the group could “use the Monday morning conf call line” Bernhardt responded in the affirmative. [See Exhibit 2]
On December 9, 2016, Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s then Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel, Matt Kellogg, sent David Bernhardt an e-mail thanking him for “all of [his] help with this.”
On December 9, 2016, Matt Kellogg sent an e-mail from his House of Representatives E-Mail address to David Bernhardt. The e-mail was regarding “Successor Biological Opinion Language” and Kellogg said “I just wanted to thank you for all of your help with this.” That same day, David Bernhardt forwarded the e-mail to Westlands Water District’s Deputy General Manager for External Affairs, Johnny Amaral. [See Exhibit 3]
On January 2, 2017, Legislative Director for Rep. David Valadao e-mailed David Bernhardt and a Westlands official for their opinion on legislative language.
On January 2, 2017, Kristina Dunklin, Legislative Director for Congressman David Valadao, sent David Bernhardt and Westlands Water District’s General Manager Tom Birmingham an e-mail requesting their “take on the San Joaquin River Settlement language in H.R. 2898 (sec. 313) as replacement for the language in the draft bill sent in early December.” Bernhardt then forwarded the e-mail to Johnny Amaral, the Deputy General Manager for External Affairs at Westlands Water District. [See Exhibit 4]
These same emails also show that Mr. Bernhardt, among other things, was involved in work that included drafting language for an executive order by then president-elect Donald Trump on behalf of Westlands Water District.
In short, these emails suggest that Mr. Bernhardt was continuing to advise congressional staff and potentially members of Congress after November 18,2016 in contradiction of his response to Senator Cantwell on May 18, 2017.