The Office of Government Ethics’ annual report released this summer and additional reporting from ProPublica confirms that Interior Secretary Bernhardt and other Trump political appointees at the Interior Department have violated the Trump administration’s so-called ethics pledge with impunity. Sec. Bernhardt, former Sec. Zinke, and six other current and former top Trump appointees at Interior are currently under investigation for multiple ethics violations.
“President Trump and his cast of corrupt political appointees signed this ethics pledge as a promise to the American people. Yet they continue to break that order with impunity. Absent any enforcement, the pledge was just another empty PR stunt and isn’t worth the paper it was written on,” said Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill. ”At Interior alone, there have been so many violations that multiple officials are under investigation. With the agency being lead by Trump’s most conflicted swamp character of all, David Bernhardt, the unchecked corruption is bankrupting our public lands, wildlife, and waterways.”
Interior’s corruption started at the onset of the Trump administration and has only accelerated under Sec. Bernhardt. Given his past as an influence-wielding mega-lobbyist for extractive corporations, the culture of corruption has thrived under his tenure. Just four days after his Senate confirmation, Sec. Bernhardt became the subject of a multi-faceted investigation for multiple ethics violations.
Examples of Bernhardt’s egregious ethics violations include meeting with officials from Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, a division of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association, one of his former clients, as well as meeting with another former client, California’s Westlands Water District.
Sec. Bernhardt has 26-known special interest conflicts of interest, which he was previously recused from working with — recusals that expired just a few months ago. Bernhardt has weighed in on a raft of critical decisions, involving particular matters, that specifically benefited his former clients, not the least of which is the recent decision to alter protections for endangered fish to benefit the Westlands Water District.
Within Interior, it isn’t just Sec. Bernhardt facing fire for his ethical blunders.
Another egregious example of Sec. Bernhardt’s culture of corruption thriving is the appointment of William Perry Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as Acting Director. Pendley has faced questions about his own conflicts of interest, numerous controversies, extremist past positions, and a call by 12 U.S. Senators for his immediate removal.
Sec. Bernhardt has done everything in his power to upend Interior’s ethics department, pushing to further limit transparency and oversight of the repeated ethical lapses within the agency. A recent Secretarial Order forced ethics officials to report to Interior headquarters instead of agency directors, consolidating the ethics team under aforementioned and under-investigation Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani.