President Trump’s brand new appointment for Secretary of the Interior is already under investigation by his own agency’s watchdog, according to CNBC.
Former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhardt was picked to replace embattled Interior Secretary and former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke – who resigned after falling under investigation over a number of potential ethics violations while leading the department.
Now we learn that Bernhardt – confirmed less than a week ago, is under investigation by the Interior Department’s office of Inspector General over allegations of conflict of interest and other violations while he was the agency’s deputy secretary, according to the report.
The confirmation comes less than a week after the Senate confirmed Bernhardt to his position. It keeps the spotlight on the nation’s top steward of public lands, whose past lobbying for energy and agribusiness clients drew scrutiny from Democrats during confirmation hearings.
The disclosure was made in a letter to Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Last month, the lawmakers asked the inspector general to look into whether there was anything improper about Bernhardt’s participation in regulatory activity that affected former clients. Bernhardt previously chaired the natural resources practice at lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall told the lawmakers the office “has received seven complaints, including yours, from a wide assortment of complainants and have opened an investigation to address them.” –CNBC
After the New York Times reported on Bernhardt’s involvement in rolling back wildlife protections which would benefit his former farming clients in California, Democratic Rep. McCollumm and Sen. Udall requested an investigation. The Times then reported that Bernhardt continued his work for a former client – the Westlands Water District, after he said he had stopped lobbying months before.
A spokesperson for the Interior Department told the Times that his work did not constitute “regulated lobbying activity,” adding that Bernhardt “is in complete compliance with his ethics agreement and all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”
“Secretary Bernhardt is hopeful the Inspector General will expeditiously complete a review of the facts associated with the questions raised by Democratic Members of Congress and DC political organizations,” said Press Secretary Faith Vander Voort in a statement.
In response to the inspector general’s investigation, Udall and McCollum said it was an important first step in safeguarding America’s natural resources and the public’s interest in them.
“The American public deserves to have the basic confidence that their Interior Secretary is looking out for their interests — protecting public land, species, the air and the water — and not the interests of former industry clients,” said Udall in a statement.
The probe marks the latest member of Trump’s administration to fall under scrutiny. Aside from Zinke, Interior Secretary Scott Pruitt resigned last July amid at least 14 separate federal investigations over his spending habits, management habits and potential conflicts of interest.
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Author: Tyler Durden