Today, Western Values Project (WVP) is releasing documents obtained through the Public Records Act (PRA) showing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s ongoing conflicts of interest related to his former client, the Westlands Water District. The release comes after the New York Times and LA Times reported on Bernhardt’s ongoing ethics issues. WVP is releasing the documents publicly to assist the Interior’s Inspector General in their ongoing multi-faceted investigation into Secretary Bernhardt’s ethical misconduct.
“Secretary Bernhardt’s tenure running Interior has been plagued with scandals that threaten our public lands and the institutions that protect them. As more information becomes public, it’s clear that Bernhardt’s web of corruption has been deployed to work on behalf of his former clients instead of the American people. We are making these documents available to Interior’s Inspector General to ensure that their ongoing investigation into Bernhardt’s ethics violations is complete and accurate,” said Western Values Project Senior Advisor Kyle Herrig.
The documents, in part, show Secretary Bernhardt continued to engage with and on behalf of his former client, the powerful Westlands Water District, potentially in violation of President Trump’s ethics order and Sec. Bernhardt’s’ own ethics pledge.
The documents’ release follows the New York Times investigative report on Sec. Bernhardt’s continued efforts to implement policies and influence decisions that would benefit Westlands Water District. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) recently sent a letter to Interior’s Inspector General requesting an expansion of the ongoing investigation to include the newly revealed actions taken by then-Acting Interior Secretary Bernhardt that again appear to benefit his former client.
Herrig continued, “In his confirmation hearing, Secretary Bernhardt sold himself as America’s quarterback. These documents, paired with his prior ethical delinquency, show that Secretary Bernhardt has only been interested in moving the political football forward for his former lobbying clients.”
Secretary Bernhardt’s tenure at Interior has been plagued with controversy and ethically-challenged decisions, benefiting many of his former clients. Secretary Bernhardt himself became the subject of a multi-faceted ethics investigation just four days after his confirmation as secretary.
WVP was forced to file suit against Westlands, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s former client, for three of the public records requests under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), which delayed their release by more than two years.
Secretary 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.
Beyond the Secretary himself, Interior’s Solicitor General Daniel Jorjani has been accused of lying to Congress during his nomination hearing, prompting Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to call for an investigation into Jorjani. Jorjani has an already-dubious past filled with multiple connections to investigations already pending through Interior.
Finally, under Secretary 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. 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. Interior’s Acting Inspector General confirmed an investigation into the practice will begin.