Today the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 14-6 to move controversial Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s nomination to a full Senate vote, setting up what is sure to be a contentious floor debate and final vote. Western Values Project’s Executive Director Chris Saeger issued the following statement in response to the committee’s vote:
It’s no surprise that a group of Senators who owe so much to special interest lobbyists would support this choice for Interior Secretary. For the last two years, conflict-ridden David Bernhardt has tipped the scales in favor of former clients, likely violating his ethics pledge and responsibilities to the American people.
Western Senators Heinrich, Gardner, McSally, and Daines greased the wheels to push Bernhardt’s controversial nomination forward before getting clear answers to critical questions regarding his serious conflicts of interests. There is still time for them to reverse this mistake by voting to reject Bernhardt on the floor of the Senate. Until that happens, they will have to live with being known as full-throated supporters of Trump’s conflicted ex-lobbyist pick to run our nation’s public lands.”
During Bernhardt’s hearing, Senators were unable to get clarification on several key conflicts of interest questions raised by Western Values Project. Just as bad, calls by Senator Wyden and others to delay his vote based on serious concerns regarding Bernhardt’s culture of corruption were ignored. Two Democrats, Senator’s Joe Manchin (WV) and Martin Heinrich (NM), with Independent Angus King (ME) joined with every Republican on the committee in voting to confirm Trump’s most conflicted cabinet nominee to date. Western Senator’s Martha McSally (AZ), Cory Gardner (CO), and Steve Daines (MT) also joined is supporting the former lobbyist.
This week, The Washington Post reported that, at the request of two watchdog groups and several Senators, Interior’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing evidence that Bernhardt violated his ethics pledge when he acted on behalf of a former client, Westlands Water District. New details released today by the New York Times found that Bernhardt had continued to associate with the water district at least until his deputy secretary nomination on April 28, 2017.
Westlands is the largest agricultural district in the country according to their website and has water delivered to producers through the Central Valley Project (CVP), a federal water project. The District is a local-government entity formed in 1952 which makes it subject to California’s Public Records Act (CPRA).
Within four months of his confirmation as Interior Deputy Secretary, Bernhardt pushed for a decision that would be beneficial for his former client.
Western Values Project (WVP) filed suit against the Interior Department in July of 2018 for public documents related to Bernhardt’s involvement with his former lobbying firm and clients. Interior has been stonewalling the release of the documents and only now begun releasing preliminary documents related to the ten requests and comply with the joint status agreement.
WVP previously launched davidbernhardt.org, a website that details Bernhardt’s conflicts of interest and highlights instances of Interior policies he has worked on that benefit his former clients.