Bernhardt’s “Recusal” Period a Boon to Former Clients & Special Interests

Megalobbyist turned Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s former clients profited greatly from his time in charge of the department 

Former oil and gas lobbyist and conflict-ridden Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is about to celebrate a very special anniversary: His long list of recusals from issues that affect his former lobbying clients is set to expire on August 3, 2019. While Bernhardt pledged to recuse himself from all decisions related to his former clients, time and again he has violated the letter and spirit of that pledge. From supporting the illegal shrinking of two national monuments in Utah to weakening the Endangered Species Act: Bernhardt’s recusal period has been full of perks for his former clients and questionable ethics choices.

“Bernhardt joined the Interior as a swamp monster with a long resume of big-spending special interest allies and references. While Trump yells about draining the swamp, adding Bernhardt to his cabinet has only fostered more corruption, more ethically-challenged decisions, and more scandals. Despite Bernhardt’s so-called recusal period, he has time and again intervened to implement policies that have helped benefit his former clients. His recusal period has given us whiplash, trying to keep up with all his conflicts of interest,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. 

The end of Secretary Bernhardt’s faux recusal period is quickly and quietly approaching – abundant with forgotten scandals and conflicts of interest, highlighted below.

1. Putting former clients over sage grouse protections 

Earning a well-deserved thank you letter from a former lobbying client, newly appointed to the Interior, Bernhardt told six states to deprioritize critical sage grouse habitat. This move was meant to ultimately roll back public lands regulations, jeopardizing the already endangered sage grouse, and benefiting big mineral interests.

2. Bernhardt’s calendars 

When the Department of Interior was asked to release Secretary Bernhardt’s calendars, the Department released five different, inconsistent versions – each with conflicting information. With so many discrepancies, it’s unclear who Bernhardt is meeting with and when – former clients he is supposed to be recused from handling? Oil executives looking for special treatment?

3. Access for former lobbying clients 

Shortly after he became Interior Secretary one of Bernhardt’s previous clients hired his former lobbying firm. The client said it was because they were “impressed” by the lobbying firm’s “newfound access” to the Department – through Bernhardt.

4. Shasta Dam in California

Despite fierce opposition from state politicians, conservation groups, and tribal nations in the region, Bernhardt came out in strong support of the Shasta Dam, while facing Senate confirmation. A potential beneficiary of the dam? Bernhardt’s former lobbying client, the Westlands Water District – who Bernhardt continued to lobby for after claiming to have discontinued all lobbying activities.

5. Dismissing a career public servant in favor of development interest

When a long-standing employee from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) submitted a report about the potential environmental and conservation damage a proposed housing development would accomplish, he thought he was doing his job. Instead, a top Interior official called him and told him to change his scientific findings to allow the housing development to proceed. Mike Ingram – CEO of the entity proposing the development and a big-time Trump donor – secretly met with Bernhardt just two weeks before the FWS employee was pressured to change his report.

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