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New Interior Sec. David Bernhardt May Violate Trump’s Ethics Rule on Lobbyists in His Administration

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According to an ethics complaint Public Citizen filed recently with the Interior Department’s ethics official and inspector general, President Trump’s selection of David Bernhardt as secretary of the Interior Department appears to have violated Trump’s executive order barring officials from working on any issues they had lobbied on in the two years prior to joining the administration. The complaint notes Bernhardt lobbied extensively on the Endangered Species Act, most recently on behalf of the Westlands Water District in 2016, when he reported lobbying on “potential legislation regarding the Bureau of Reclamation and the Endangered Species Act.” We speak with Public Citizen President Robert Weissman.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about something else. I want to turn to President Trump’s selection of David Bernhardt as secretary of the interior. Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, has been the agency’s acting secretary since Ryan Zinke stepped down in December amidst multiple scandals and ethics violations. Bernhardt was confirmed as deputy secretary of the interior in 2017, where he helped roll back regulations overseen by the department. He worked to make the approval for land and offshore drilling projects easier, and proposed limiting protections for endangered species. Bernhardt also ordered some furloughed workers back to work during the government shutdown to push through on oil and natural gas drilling permits, offshore drilling and drilling in the Alaska refuge.

According to an ethics complaint of Public Citizen with the Interior Department’s ethics official and inspector general, Bernhardt appears to have violated Trump’s executive order barring officials from working on any issues they had lobbied on in the two years prior to joining the administration.

Rob Weissman, can you talk about what you have on Bernhardt and what you think needs to happen?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, this is one of just the most amazing, but now normalized, features of the Trump administration. What we’ve seen, in agency after agency, is they have a scandal at the Cabinet level, the Cabinet official is forced out, and he—it’s always been a he—is replaced by a lobbyist. So, their response to ethics challenges in the Trump administration is to hire lobbyists who worked on the agency that they’re now going to be in charge of.

That happened at EPA, where there’s a coal lobbyist in charge, replacing Pruitt. It happened at HHS, the Health and Human Services Department, where Tom Price was replaced by a former executive of a drug company; and now at the Department of Interior, where an oil lobbyist comes in to take over for Ryan Zinke, who, as you just mentioned, by the way, leaves the department and goes and becomes a lobbyist himself. This guy, Bernhardt—

AMY GOODMAN: With the campaign—former campaign manager for—Corey Lewandowski.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Corey Lewandowski, for Trump.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: It’s hard to keep track of all the moving pieces. But if you just assume it’s as corrupt as you could possibly imagine, and double it, you’ll usually land right.

So, with Bernhardt, he—among the other things he had done before coming into government is lobby on the Clean Water Act, which he has now, inside government, tried to roll back. We actually filed an earlier complaint against Bernhardt, because he’s previously been, we knew, in violation of Trump’s supposed ethics rules. And now, with this new information about his lobbying on the Clean Water Act, it’s very clear he’s working on the exact same issue that he had worked on as a lobbyist outside of government.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Rob Weissman, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Public Citizen. The group has said it will sue President Donald Trump if he declares a national emergency to secure funding for his border wall.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we get response from immigrants’ rights activist Erika Andiola on the passage of the bill and President Trump’s threats. Stay with us.

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