Interior’s new Inspector General, Mark Greenblatt, is slated to begin his job soon, overseeing the Interior Department’s ethics probes and internal investigations. Greenblatt will certainly have his work cut out for him, given that several Interior political appointees are currently under ethics investigations, including Interior Secretary David Bernhardt himself.
“The culture of corruption under David Bernhardt’s watch continues to be a mess that needs a good house cleaning, said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “It’s hard to keep up with Bernhardt’s and his political cronies’ ethical lapses, but we’re holding out hope that Greenblatt is up to the job. The future of our public lands and outdoor heritage may depend on it.”
Current Interior officials being investigated for ethical lapses include:
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt
Bernhardt became the subject of a multi-faceted ethics investigation just four days after his confirmation as secretary. The investigation includes Bernhardt’s efforts to alter a biological opinion to benefit former client Westlands Water District and block a scientific report analyzing how controversial pesticides affected protected wildlife.
Bernhardt’s office has also been accused of destroying his official calendars to shield the special interest meetings taken by Bernhardt and his staff. One independent source counts more than a dozen scandals related to Bernhardt’s conduct at Interior. This may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bernhardt’s ethical lapses.
Western Values Project issued a report detailing many of the inconsistencies within Bernhardt’s recusal period, including some that may have violated ethics laws and rules, and the boon it’s been for the vast majority of his 26 former clients at the expense of America’s public lands and wildlife.
Acting Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani
Recently, Senator Ron Wyden called for an investigation into solicitor nominee Daniel Jorjani. Jorjani has a dubious past filled with multiple connections to investigations already pending through Interior. But there was an increasing concern that Jorjani perjured himself and lied to Congress during his confirmation hearing.
Daniel Jorjani has served Interior in an acting role for nearly two years. As the acting solicitor, the department’s top legal position, he has led Interior’s efforts to limit transparency, once bragging that ‘at the end of the day, our job is to protect the Secretary.’ The former “key Koch Industries employee” has crafted some of the department’s most controversial legal decisions that have benefited industry and special interests.
Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech
Only days after Bernhardt took the reins at Interior, Domenech, along with six other Interior officials, were placed under investigation for assorted ethical misconduct – Domenech was the highest-ranking official named in this report.
Calendars indicated that Domenech met with his former employer, Texas Public Policy Foundation, concerning an endangered species act listing and a property dispute, despite the group’s pending lawsuits with Interior on both issues.
Lori Mashburn, Benjamin Cassidy, Todd Wynn, Timothy Williams, and Vincent DeVito
The other officials included in the ethics complaint, along with Domenech, were accused of various ethical violations that all related to conduct with their former employers. Cabinet officials are required to sign an ethics pledge under the Trump administration, limiting their contact with former employers.
Freedom of Information Act Political Meddling
Under Bernhardt’s tenure, the Interior Department implemented an internal ‘political awareness review process,’ allowing political appointees to approve or disapprove of documents before they were released to the public. Western Values Project (WVP) and Campaign for Accountability, along with three other watchdog groups, filed a complaint with Interior’s Office of Inspector General calling for an investigation of the political awareness review process of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at the department. Earthjustice also filed a request for an investigation.
This policy not only fogs the government accountability process – it goes against the intent of the law. Interior’s Acting Inspector General confirmed a review of an investigation into the practice will begin.