Ex-oil lobbyist and “ultimate D.C. swamp creature” David Bernhardt was supposedly sworn in yesterday as Interior Secretary in a ceremony at the White House closed to the press and public. Only an E&E News story noted that the closed event was scheduled to happen at 3:45 pm yesterday, which was in stark contrast to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s public event. The secretive swearing-in comes after Interior has become besieged with investigations into corruption and ethics violations.
Just four days after Bernhardt’s confirmation, Interior’s internal watchdog opened ethics investigations into seven different complaints following a series of reports about Bernhardt’s conflicts of interest and lobbying violations. The Inspector General also confirmed that is was investigating six presidential appointees at Interior to determine whether they had violated ethics rules by engaging with their former employers and clients on departmental decisions. The new investigation led Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who also requested an investigation into Bernhardt’s potential civil and criminal violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA), to tweet that “the fish rots from the head.”
In response, Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger released the following statement:
We already knew that David Bernhardt was President Trump’s most conflict-ridden cabinet member to date, but his own agency announcing an investigation into his ethics violations just four days after his confirmation must be a record. Battered by his own self-inflicted wounds and surround by appointees who are just as conflicted, Bernhardt now has to hide from the press during his own swearing-in, a tacit admission that his installment as Interior Secretary is for the corporate lobbyists and special interests, not for the American people and the country’s public lands.”
Bernhardt has also recently come under intense scrutiny and is being investigated for not maintaining records related to details on his public calendar. The department recently released a series of ‘daily cards’ that include ‘more than three dozen meetings with key players on California water issues, including multiple lengthy meetings on specific endangered species protections at the heart of his previous work,’ according to a recent report by Politico.