Only seven of the 27,375 documents released by the Interior Department publicly accessible in a new online database were written by Secretary David Bernhardt, suggesting that Interior is withholding key documents and emails written by Bernhardt. The apparent suppression of Bernhardt’s documents come as Interior is facing lawsuits and calls for investigations into the secret political review process of pending public records requests.
“Either Secretary Bernhardt doesn’t put anything in writing in an effort to cover up his corrupt conduct or Interior is refusing to follow public records laws. The simple question is: what is Bernhardt trying to hide? Whatever he is doing behind closed doors, the public has a legal right to certain materials and Interior has the duty to make that information public,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger.
Western Values Project (WVP) made these 27,375 documents available to the public on a searchable database on DocumentCloud here.
Earlier this week, WVP joined with four other watchdog groups in calling on the department’s inspector general to investigate whether Trump’s political appointees are illegally interfering with the release of documents in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Another group requested a similar investigation based on additional evidence late last week.
As reported by The Hill, one of the email correspondences regarding public documents being released highlights Bernhardt’s refusal to put information in writing. According to the email exchange, Bernhardt gave the approval to release the public information, but “indicated he will not be putting this affirmation into writing and that if he said it could go out, we do not need to hear from anyone else.”
Within the document trove obtained by WVP, emails coming from Bernhardt were sent only from his cell phone and were mere one-sentence exchanges. The most recent email sent by Bernhardt was on September 29, 2017.
Images of the emails are linked to each corresponding FOIA.