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Tag: david bernhardt

House Democrats Demand Corruption Probe Of Former Trump Interior Chief

Top Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have taken former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to task for alleged corruption and called on the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into his alleged quid-pro-quo with an influential pro-Trump developer from Arizona for a housing permit.

In a 37-page letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the committee chairman, and Katie Porter (D-CA), chair of the subcommittee on oversights and investigations, accused Bernhardt of misusing his office to effectuate “federal agency decision-making … in the interest of private gain rather than the American people.”

Bernhardt, the lawmakers said, pressed an official to approve a permit for developer Michael Ingram, a Republican donor, despite warnings from multiple officials that developments could harm endangered species.

From 2019 to 2021, Bernhardt led the U.S. Interior Department as its secretary. He was the department’s no-2 man in 2017 when a departmental agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), suddenly reversed its longtime demand for an environmental review of a proposed development of a 28,000-home residential area in Southern Arizona, known as Villages at Vigneto.

Grijalva and Porter said the committee opened an extensive investigation into the decision in 2017, after Steve Spangle, an FWS employee, complained to news outlets that he was politically pressured into approving the development when he was an Arizona Ecological Services Field Office supervisor.

Officials warned that issuing a Clean Water Act permit could threaten endangered species, such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo, in the area, which is home to birds and the northern Mexican garter snake, according to the Associated Press.

Bernhardt, the Democrat lawmakers write in their letter, met Ingram in August 2017 but didn’t disclose it in his public calendar or travel documents. Two weeks after that meeting, a phone call was allegedly placed to the Interior Associate Solicitor Peg Romanik, ordering him to reverse the FWS’s decision to block the project.

Two months later, Ingram donated $10,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, which was reportedly used in a collective GOP effort to funnel millions of dollars to reelect Trump. The permit was approved later that month, the lawmakers’ letter alleged. In the days that followed, Ingram and his associates made “highly unusual out-of-cycle donations” of almost $242,000 to Trump’s fund, the lawmakers complained.

“Evidence strongly suggests the decision was the result of a quid pro quo between Vigneto’s developer, Michael Ingram, and senior level officials in the Trump administration, potentially including then–DOI Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt,” the Democrat lawmakers wrote.

Ingram, the latter says, had “frequent access to high-ranking officials across the Trump administration,″including Bernhardt; Ryan Zinke, the Interior Secretary from 2017 to 2019; and Scott Pruitt, the 2017-2018 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The findings of this investigation show us yet again that the previous administration cast career staff expertise aside while they handed out federal agency decisions to Trump’s buddies and big donors on a pay-to-play basis,” Grijalva said in a statement.

When reached for comment about the committee’s findings and letter, Bernhardt snapped, calling it “a pathetic attempt by career politicians to fabricate news.”

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Bernhardt’s company, El Dorado Holdings, called the committee’s findings “false, misleading, [and] unfair” and said it struck him “as reminiscent of McCarthyism’s use of innuendo as a surrogate for fact.”

Dozens Of Trump’s Political Hacks Will Remain In Office After Biden Takes Over

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Christopher Prandoni was just 29 when he joined President Donald Trump's administration as associate director for natural resources at the Council on Environmental Quality. Last year, he hopped over to the Interior Department and became a close adviser to Secretary David Bernhardt, sometimes attending multiple meetings a day with the agency head.

In April, Bernhardt named Prandoni, only three years out of law school, to a $114,000-a-year position that's part of the career civil service. His appointment as a judge in the Interior Department's Office of Hearings and Appeals, which arbitrates land-use disputes, drew sharp criticism from environmental groups concerned that Prandoni would infuse ideology into decisions and undermine the panel's integrity.

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Bernhardt Would Be Another Disaster At Interior

Back in 2016, candidate Donald Trump said he opposed a Republican bill designed to grease the wholesale transfer of America’s public lands to states. “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great,” he told Field & Stream, “and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”

It turned out that, on the contrary, Trump very much liked the idea. He got to work on it in his first month as president. And he named Ryan Zinke, a zealot for privatizing public land, as the head of the Interior Department. The remarkably corrupt Zinke had to resign. Trump now wants Zinke’s No. 2, David Bernhardt, to take over Interior and continue the mission.

With Bernhardt’s help, the administration radically shrunk two national monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Formerly an oil and mining lobbyist, Bernhardt also drafted the plan to open over 9 million acres of sage grouse habitat to oil, gas and mining. The sage grouse is a candidate for the endangered species list. And the companies would no longer have to pay into a habitat protection fund.

Here’s how the game works: First give the land to the states. When that happens, the bills for fire control and other land management go to state taxpayers. State officials then say: “We can’t afford that. We’d have to raise taxes.” So they sell the gorgeous Western scenery to the world’s superrich. Other acres go to oil and gas companies at bargain prices. These are the interests that had been funding the politicians all along.

“No trespassing” signs rapidly appear. And the American people — hikers, dog walkers, paddlers, hunters, anglers — lose their right to a natural heritage that used to be free.

Many Western politicians talk as though the federal government grabbed the land within their state borders. They have it backward. The federal government owned that land before their states were states. Of course, local needs should be taken into account in deciding how that land is used. Fortunately, the federal government provides for a good deal of community input.

Whattabout Barack Obama? Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, a Bernhardt fan, charged that Obama’s interior secretary Sally Jewell had worked for an oil company. Jewell did work as an oil engineer for three years. She then went to Rainier Bank, which she advised to steer clear of the oil and gas sector (good counsel at the time). Her big job, however, was chief operating officer of REI, seller of outdoors gear.

Outdoor recreation companies are avid promoters of protecting the environment, for obvious reasons. They are also an $887 billion-a-year industry employing 7.6 million Americans, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

The Obama administration did designate some sensitive public land for industrial purposes but with greater restrictions on construction of pipelines and roads. Drilling during sage grouse mating season was banned.

To obscure his controversial history, Bernhardt has been playing the hunter’s best friend. He talks a lot about “considering” protections for big game species. He just announced he’d expand a Zinke-era order to protect migration corridors.

As we’ve learned, orders are not actions. In the year since the order, nearly 20 percent of the Interior Department leases to oil and gas have been within these corridors. In New Mexico, 82 percent of the leases threaten mule deer, elk and pronghorn migrations. The slashing of Bears Ears opens a premier elk hunting area to industrialization.

And don’t you love that picture of the bearded Washington, D.C., lobbyist out in the field in camo, landing a moose?

With Republicans holding a Senate majority, Bernhardt’s confirmation is all but guaranteed. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.