In its investigation of Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the former oil and gas lobbyist now heading the agency in charge of regulating that industry, American Oversight is today suing the Department of the Interior for records of his compliance with ethics requirements and contact with former clients.
Last week, President Donald Trump formally nominated Bernhardt to serve as interior secretary. Before joining DOI as deputy secretary in 2017, Bernhardt represented clients in the energy and agricultural industries as a partner at the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, LLP. Bernhardt is now in charge of regulating the same businesses he represented as a lobbyist — according to the Washington Post, and has “so many potential conflicts of interest he has to carry a small card listing them all.”
Though Bernhardt recused himself from “particular matters” involving his former clients, his role continues to touch policy areas related to his past lobbying work. According to a CNN analysis, companies and industry groups formerly represented by Bernhardt have received favorable decisions from DOI at least 15 times during his tenure at the agency. The acting secretary has recently drawn criticism for pushing to weaken Endangered Species Act protections, an action that would benefit the Westlands Water District, one of Bernhardt’s former clients.
Today’s lawsuit comes after Interior failed to respond to five Freedom of Information Act requests targeting records related to Bernhardt, including communications with 23 of his former clients, including Westlands, his travel expense records, and his ethics waivers or recusal determinations.
“Before we give the fox a permanent key to the henhouse, the public needs confidence that David Bernhardt has been using his position to benefit the public and not himself or his extensive roster of former clients,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight.
See the full complaint here: