Over the weekend, Politico broke a story detailing President Bush’s former Interior Secretary-turned-MGM Grand lobbyist Gale Norton’s influence on the current department’s decision to offer no opinion on a Native American gaming casino in Connecticut, after released documents indicated that officials in Interior’s gaming office had initially approved the request.
The Interior Department is now being sued by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes for refusing to make a decision on allowing the tribes to open a new casino in Connecticut. The delay in approving the new casino would seem to benefit the gambling giant MGM Resorts International, which is planning on opening a competing casino nearby and has been lobbying Interior on the issue.
The Western Values Project’s own research shows that at least two current employees at Interior, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt and Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason, have ties to MGM Grand and thus to the decision regarding the gaming compact.
According to the Politico story and internal documents released, officials in the BIA’s Indian gaming office had recommended approving the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes casino after a six week review. Within a matter of 48 hours, however, the decision was reversed after it went through Associate Deputy Cason’s office.
Publicly available calendars for Secretary Zinke show a meeting between the Secretary, Deputy Secretary Bernhardt, and MGM Grand lobbyist Brian Ballard, among others, on August 29th. Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm represents MGM Grand and Cason worked for Norton at Interior during the Bush administration.
It appears Bernhardt’s involvement may be in violation of Trump’s executive order on ethics.