WVP Statement on David Bernhardt’s Nomination for Interior Secretary

Following breaking news that President Donald Trump nominated David Bernhardt as the new Secretary of the Interior, Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger issued the following statement:

“With his unprecedented attacks on public lands and wildlife, as well as his repeated ethical lapses that led to 17 investigations, Ryan Zinke left the Interior Department in shambles and lost the trust of the American people. Given the chance, David Bernhardt will pick up right where Zinke left off and continue selling out America’s public lands to the highest special interest bidders. Bernhardt is an ex-lobbyist and the ultimate DC-swamp creature with so many potential conflicts of interest that he has to carry around a list of his former clients. He is simply too conflicted to be our next Interior Secretary, and the Senate should vote his nomination down.”

In order to be confirmed as Interior Secretary, Bernhardt’s nomination will need to be voted on by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and then by the entire Senate. Bernhardt took over as Acting Secretary of the Interior following Zinke’s departure on January 2, 2019. As of now, no date for Bernhardt’s Senate confirmation hearing has been announced.

Western Values Project calls upon David Bernhardt to answer the following questions:

Has Bernhardt been in communication with Halliburton or anyone representing Halliburton since becoming Deputy Secretary of the Interior?

Former Secretary Zinke was the subject of 17 investigations. His downfall was brought about in part by his involvement in a sweetheart real estate deal that his family’s foundation was pursuing with private developers, including the Chairman of Halliburton. Halliburton is one of Bernhardt’s former clients and is included on his ethics recusal. Since becoming Deputy Secretary of the Interior, has Bernhardt been in communication with Halliburton or anyone representing Halliburton? Did Bernhardt have any knowledge of the meeting Zinke held in his office with the Halliburton chairman, or of the sweetheart real estate deal? Will the pending investigation into Zinke continue? What was Bernhardt’s involvement in Interior’s rescinding fracking regulations that benefited Haliburton?

How does Bernhardt plan to solve problems plaguing the department as Secretary of the Interior?

Under Ryan Zinke’s leadership and Bernhardt’s direction, Interior limited public participation, suppressed science, and permeated a culture of corruption. The department also has been plagued by pervasive sexual harassment and low employee morale. How does Bernhardt plan to solve these problems as Secretary of the Interior?

Has Bernhardt honored his ethics recusals?

How does he explain multiple instances of former clients benefiting from Interior decisions under his leadership? With Bernhardt now overseeing the entire department, how does he intend to honor his ethics recusals with his former lobbying clients that have business before the department?

Has Bernhardt given former clients preferential access?

Has Bernhardt given former clients preferential access to decision-making around two of his major initiatives – reforming the Endangered Species Act and reviewing the cooperative sage grouse agreements?

Will Bernhardt promise not to sell public lands or transfer them to the states?

Will he ensure access to public lands by supporting and funding programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)?

What was Bernhardt’s role in re-assigning Interior career employees?

An Interior Department board, chaired by Bernhardt, vindictively reassigned employees without consultation leading to Interior’s own inspector general issuing a report criticizing how the board failed to document its plan or gather necessary information when reassigning senior executives. What was Bernhardt’s role in re-assigning Interior career employees, including the controversial reassignment of the Yellowstone National Park Superintendent? Why wasn’t proper documentation of the reassignments kept?

Can the American people trust that corruption and special interest favors won’t happen again?

During Bernhardt’s past tenure as Interior Solicitor during the George W. Bush administration, the department was similarly plagued by scandal and corruption, including having high-level officials involved in the ex-casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff scandal. Recently, Bernhardt was at the center of an Interior non-decision on the approval of a Native American casino in Connecticut. The casino was opposed by MGM Grand, who is being represented by Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm. With Bernhardt as Secretary, how can the American people be sure that corruption and special interest lobbyist favors won’t happen again?

Read more about David Bernhardt’s extensive conflicts of interest at www.davidbernhardt.org/.

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