Trump's New Interior Secretary Is Already Under Investigation After One Week on the Job

Photo: Zach Gibson (Getty)

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has been a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet for less than a single week, and already he’s the latest top administration official to find himself under investigation for grift and corruption.

According to a New York Times report on Monday, Bernhardt—a former oil lobbyist—is being investigated by the Department of the Interior’s inspector general for a number of alleged violations, including pushing a former lobbying client’s policy goal, blocking a science report on the harmful effects of a pesticide, and—shocker—continuing to act as a lobbyist, himself.

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Earlier this month, the Times reported that Bernhardt, who previously served as deputy secretary of the Interior, had billed a client for “federal lobbying” nearly half a year after he’d filed notice with the government ending his official status as a lobbyist.

The investigation into Bernhardt reportedly comes after a group of Democratic senators shared a host of complaints with Interior Department Deputy IG Mary Kendall, who confirmed to them that she was looking into seven “complainants alleging various conflicts of interest and other violations,” in a letter obtained by the Times on Monday.

A Bernhardt spokesperson responded to the the Times’ report, pushing back on any allegations of criminality:

Secretary Bernhardt is in complete compliance with his ethics agreement and all applicable laws, rules, and regulations. It is important to note that the Department Ethics Office has already conducted a review of many of these accusations at Mr. Bernhardt’s request and determined that Secretary Bernhardt is in complete compliance.

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Not that it should come as any surprise that Bernhardt is allegedly a big ol’ bundle of grift; during his confirmation hearing last month, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told Bernhardt to his face that he sounded like “just another corrupt official.”

“I’m not claiming you’re Big Oil’s guy. The Big Oil lobbyists are making that claim,” Wyden added. “I think you are so conflicted that if you get confirmed you’re going to have one of two choices. One, you’re going to have to disqualify yourself from so many matters, I don’t know how you’re going to spend your day. Or two, you’re going to be making decisions that either directly or indirectly benefit former clients, regularly violating your ethics pledge.”

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Bernhardt replaced former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was himself subject to an impressive 15 investigations into all sorts of misuse of public funds, before he ignominiously bowed out of the Trump administration.

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Rafi Schwartz

Senior writer. When in doubt he'll have the soup.