Today, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) called on the Department of Justice to launch a criminal investigate into Trump’s nominee for Interior’s Solicitor General, Daniel Jorjani, for potentially lying to Congress about his role in Interior’s public records political review process. In addition to the request for a perjury investigation, Senator Wyden put a hold on Jorjani’s nomination to be confirmed as the department’s top legal official.
“Bernhardt’s tenure at the helm of Trump’s Interior has been plagued with conflicts, scandals, and investigations. It appears that Jorjani is just following in his boss’s footsteps – and maybe his orders – with this potentially illegal move, lying about his role in the suppression of public documents requests while under oath,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project.
While awaiting confirmation, Daniel Jorjani has served Interior in an acting role for nearly two years. As 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.’”
While at Interior, the former “key Koch Industries employee” has crafted some of the department’s most controversial legal decisions that have benefited industry and special interests, such as undermining the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Jorjani also worked to reverse a previous departmental ruling that renewed the copper and nickel mining leases for a Chilean mining company, Twin Metals, on the border of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Interior’s public documents review process has recently come under scrutiny after it was uncovered that the administration was putting public documents requests through a political review process – thereby violating the law by delaying requests, withholding responsive public documents, and unnecessarily politicizing the public records review process. Recently, a bipartisan team of senators drafted legislation that would bar a similar political review process within the Environmental Protection Agency.
Wyden’s requested investigation into Jorjani comes after Interior’s Inspector General opened an investigation into the political awareness review process implemented by Jorjani. Western Values Project and several other groups requested and provided supplemental information to investigators after they discovered that pages of documents were improperly withheld from public documents requests by political appointees at Interior, which may be a violation of the law.
The Acting Inspector General is currently reviewing the investigation request, which Senator Wyden also asked be expanded to include Jorjani. WVP first identified Interior’s political awareness review process of public document requests in March and submitted a series of FOIA requests to determine if previous requests had been subjected to the newly established process. Analysis of the public documents released by the National Parks Service (NPS) about the review process discovered that major media outlets including The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Politico, The Hill and others, as well as watchdog organizations, were subject to the political awareness review, causing delays and, in several cases, limiting responsive public documents being released.