On Thursday, Accountable.US and American Oversight called on former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s previous lobbying firm — and its clients — to carefully scrutinize Bernhardt’s time in the Trump administration if he seeks to return to his lobbying career. The groups sent the letter as part of their Campaign Against Corporate Complicity, an effort to prevent the normalization of the Trump administration’s anti-democratic and inhumane policies by ensuring that companies thoroughly vet any former officials who come looking for jobs.
In the letter to more than 200 principals, partners, shareholders, and clients of the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck, where Bernhardt was a prominent energy and extractive industries lobbyist prior to joining the Trump administration, the groups specifically cited his role in spreading misinformation about the June 2020 assault on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.:
“Bernhardt’s continued refusal to acknowledge basic facts and his penchant for dishonesty underscores his willingness to cover up and deflect the truth in blind support of Trump. You and your colleagues should think carefully about whether you want to associate with—to entrust your brand to—someone with that reputation. You should further consider whether hiring Bernhardt would reward his lies with your business and whether you want to send the signal to the public (and your clients or customers) that the abuses of power he enabled and the lies he told were not only acceptable but laudable. You can do better.”
In his role as interior secretary, Bernhardt oversaw the U.S. Park Police, one of the agencies involved in using chemical munitions to expel peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square moments before then-President Donald Trump walked through the park to stage a photo opportunity in front of a nearby church. Following the incident, Bernhardt continued to publicly deny that tear gas was used on the protesters, contributing to the Trump administration’s misinformation campaign even after a police spokesperson acknowledged the facts.
The letter also highlights reports that under Bernhardt’s leadership, the Interior Department interfered with transparency rules for political purposes.
Bernhardt entered government service under a cloud of ethics concerns given his background as a lobbyist, and faced repeated ethics questions and investigations during his time in office. Documents released via the Freedom of Information Act appeared to show that Bernhardt — who reportedly had to carry a card listing all of his potential conflicts of interest — used taxpayer funds to travel to a conference involving former clients, despite having been given contrary internal ethics advice.
Having gotten his administration job through Washington’s revolving door, it might be expected he will seek his next position in the same way, returning to his perch at a major lobbying outfit pedaling influence to lawmakers and officials. But Bernhardt served an aberrant administration and built a record of putting politics and allegiance to Trump above the interests of the American people and democracy. Bernhardt will carry his reputation into the future. His former employer and clients should think twice about reemploying him as their representative.
The Campaign Against Corporate Complicity seeks to prevent normalization of the Trump administration’s cruel and undemocratic actions and rhetoric by ensuring that companies scrutinize former officials looking to sell their government experience as a qualification rather than a disgrace.