The Western Values Project sued the Department of the Interior under the Freedom of Information Act for failing to release documents related to David Bernhardt’s tenure at the agency during the Bush Administration. The suit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Bernhardt, who is believed to be the “front-runner for the No. 2 slot” at DOI, was the agency’s top lawyer in George W. Bush’s Administration when a number of scandals unfolded. These scandals included well-reported incidents involving the infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including one that led to the criminal conviction of the Deputy Secretary at the time, as well as a lesser known scandal involving an employee who was eventually forced to resign for “doctoring scientific reports and passing [nonpublic] sensitive information to industry lawyers and lobbyists” but was given a $9,628 bonus before leaving the agency. This suit seeks to uncover Bernhardt’s role in these scandals and others.
“It’s simple. The public has a right to know David Bernhardt’s role in the scandals that plagued the Bush era Department of Interior,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “We will aggressively pursue this litigation until that information has been released to the public. There shouldn’t be any secrets about Mr. Bernhardt if he stands a chance of becoming one of the most powerful figures at Interior.”
Since leaving DOI, Bernhardt has gone on to become a high-paid lobbyist in the same industry he now hopes to oversee. In this role, Bernhardt has become no stranger to the ‘swamp,’ giving at least $77,000 to Republican candidates and committees. And, if nominated and confirmed, he would face serious questions about his conflicts of interest. In fact, Bernhardt’s law firm already stands to gain over $3 million dollars if the Bureau of Land Management adopts a regulation change that would benefit his lobbying firm.
“Bernhardt is the definition of a swamp creature with serious conflicts of interest that should disqualify him as a nominee if Trump stands by his ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric,” added Saeger. “The public deserves to know the full breadth of his involvement with the special interests that want to takeover our nation’s public lands.”