Bush administration official-turned lobbyist obscures past mishandling of ethical missteps and cozying up to special interests in government role
Nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt’s rocky path back through the revolving door continued as he bristled under tough questions about his past as a lobbyist and top official during some of the department’s most controversial years.
In particular, Mr. Bernhardt made the deeply misleading claim that he “did not modify scientific data” as an official at the Bush administration’s Department of the Interior.
Mr. Bernhardt didn’t just make modifications – he instead completely replaced independent government analysis with reports funded by oil companies for the purposes of Congressional testimony.
“If you want to understand where Mr. Bernhardt would take Interior as Deputy Secretary, take a look at his record,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “Mr. Bernhardt presided over a scandal-ridden Bush-era Interior and cashed out that experience as a lobbyist for the special interests trying to profit from Interior. We can’t afford to let him back through this revolving door.”
More background on Mr. Bernhardt’s time at Interior:
Failed to hold appointees accountable for doctoring reports and sharing them with special interests: Then Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald was forced to resign “after Interior’s inspector general issued a scathing report exposing her bullying of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists, doctoring scientific reports and passing [nonpublic] sensitive information to industry lawyers and lobbyists.” David Bernhardt, could have stopped her doctoring of scientific reports, but he did not do so. Instead he was “part of Interior’s Executive Resources Board, which gave Julie MacDonald…a cash award of $9,628,” even though “the award lacked the required documentation of what MacDonald did to deserve it.” [Gale Courey Toensing, “Interior Solicitor David Bernhardt in the spotlight,” Indian Country Today, 06/04/07]
Oversaw the forced resignation of whistleblower Robert McCarthy, who helped expose the mismanagement of Indian Trust funds. McCarthy’s whistleblowing led to a “major victory” for the plaintiff tribal members in a case in which David Bernhardt was the “lead attorney” for the Department of the Interior. [Chris Casteel, “Whistle-blower Allowed to Resign,” The Oklahoman, 02/27/08]
Headed President Trump’s Interior Department transition team, which pushed a water project that could make millions for his lobbying group. David Bernhardt is the chair of the Natural Resources Department at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP. His co-chair is Scott Slater, who is also the CEO of Cadiz, which wants to tap “into an aquifer the size of Rhode Island” to “provide an extra supply of water for…Southern California,” even though “scientific analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey” shows that severe environmental damage to the Mojave National Preserve is likely if the project moves forward. “Until Donald Trump won the presidency, prospects looked bleak for Cadiz,” but in December 2016 “the National Governors Association circulated a preliminary list of infrastructure projects provided by the Trump transition team, and Cadiz’s was on the list.” David Bernhardt “served as the head of President-elect Donald Trump’s Interior Department transition team” in November 2016. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP “stands to earn 200,000 shares of Cadiz stock if the company meets milestones for completing the project and selling water. Brownstein has already earned 200,000 shares for its involvement with the company – a stock portfolio that is sure to appreciate in value if Cadiz can overcome permitting obstacles.” [Stuart Leavenworth, “California water venture tied to Trump sees prospects rise after years of setbacks,” McClatchy News Service, 02/08/17]