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Interior Department Must Scrutinize Secret Bernhardt Files

Public Citizen Files Third Ethics Complaint Following Congressional Calls for a Criminal Investigation

WASHINGTON - Following reports that the U.S. Department of the Interior deliberately withheld 253 pages of documents ahead of Secretary David Bernhardt’s U.S. Senate confirmation last year, Public Citizen today filed a third ethics complaint with the department’s ethics officials.

The new complaint notes that Bernhardt’s conflicts of interest as a former energy lobbyist may violate the president’s own executive order, and perhaps the conflict of interest code itself, and encourages the Interior Department to scrutinize the recently-released documents. Public Citizen sent two previous complaintsone on March 20, 2018, and another on February 12, 2019both of which went unanswered by the Interior Department.

“In light of the apparent ‘nothing to see here’ attitude to our previous complaints over Bernhardt’s many conflicts of interest, we’re hoping this recent discovery will encourage the Interior Department to take another look,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen. “Maybe the third time’s the charm. These secret files could contain a treasure-trove of ethics violationsand Interior can no longer afford to sweep this under the rug.”


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U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, have called for a criminal investigation into whether Interior Department staff orchestrated a cover-up to protect Bernhardt during his confirmation hearing.

According to a recent Public Citizen analysis of Bernhardt’s meeting logs from January 2017 to May 2019, nearly two-thirds of the meetings analyzed, or 443 meetings in total, were with energy companies and lobbyists. Another report, “Bernhardt Buddies,” revealed that his former lobbying and legal clients have spent nearly $30 million lobbying the federal government since the start of the Trump administration.

Read the complaint here.


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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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