Interior Dept. watchdog reviewing allegations that acting secretary violated Trump ethics pledge

By: Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, April 3, 2019

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing allegations that acting secretary David Bernhardt may have violated his ethics pledge by weighing in on issues affecting a former client, the office confirmed Tuesday.

The move comes as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is preparing to vote Thursday on whether to confirm Bernhardt as the next interior secretary, after which his nomination is expected to advance to the Senate floor.

At least two outside groups and two Democratic senators asked the agency watchdog to look into Bernhardt’s effort to weaken protections for imperiled fish species and to expand California farmers’ access to water, even though he once lobbied on behalf of a massive agricultural water district that stood to benefit from the changes. The New York Times, The Washington Post and other outlets reported on aspects of Bernhardt’s work.

Several groups, including the Campaign Legal Center and the Campaign for Accountability, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), have questioned Bernhardt’s role in the Interior Department’s push to conduct an environmental analysis of proposed changes to federal and state water projects in California. That effort could free up more water for the Westlands Water District, which serves farmers in California’s Central Valley.

“It’s important that the inspector general look into this matter and see what happened here,” said Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, who received a letter from the office Monday.

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