Is It Physically Possible To Be Worse Than Ryan Zinke?

Less than 24 hours after he was confirmed as Interior Secretary on Thursday, David Bernhardt was facing multiple ethics investigations for shaping federal environmental policy to benefit his former clients. And for covering it up, of course. He's no Scott "Jizz Mattress" Pruitt, but Bernhardt's strong entry puts him in pole position to overtake his predecessor Ryan Zinke in the Swampland Olympiad. Dream Big, Swamp Man!

Bernhardt is accused of violating his pledge to recuse himself from regulating companies and issues he lobbied on in the private sector. At issue is his work for Westlands Water District, a California agribusiness group that paid Bernhardt's firm to lobby against Endangered Species Act protections for the delta smelt and the winter-run chinook salmon. Although he claimed to have ceased lobbying for Westlands in November 2016, the New York Times unearthed invoices suggesting Bernhardt continued his efforts through April 2017 when he was nominated for a post at Interior.

Under any rational interpretation of the ethics pledge Bernhardt signed, he should have kept his paws off the delta smelt until this month at the earliest. Instead, at the end of 2017 Bernhardt called up David Murillo, the official in charge of water management for the mid-Pacific region, and instructed him to get busy weakening protections for the smelt and chinook -- just as he'd done for his "former" clients at Westlands.

But don't worry, you guys, it's totally kosher. See, when Bernhardt was lobbying to take water from the smelt and give it to almond farmers, he was asking for a small change in a larger bill. And because the bill contained lot of other provisions, the lobbying gets diluted like fertilizer runoff in the watershed. And that makes it clean, okay?

Please, New York Times, tell the good people that we didn't make this shit up:

Before phoning Mr. Murillo, Mr. Bernhardt said, he had received verbal clearance from an Interior Department ethics lawyer. Technically, the lawyer told Mr. Bernhardt, he had lobbied on a broad water bill — one with many provisions, not just smelt rollbacks. So even though he had specifically lobbied only on the provision targeting the smelt and salmon, he was within the ethics rules.

"They say to me, 'It's gigantic,'" Mr. Bernhardt said of the bill.

Not convinced by that totally objective and independently verifiable verbal clearance? Wow, tough room!

But wait, there's more! How about some calendar fuckery to go with the despoliation of the earth ethics pledge? Roll Call reports that Bernhardt's staff may be hiding meetings with the despoilers by printing out their boss's real schedule, then deleting the offending events from the master Google calendar, a potential violation of public records laws.

The Interior Department has acknowledged that Secretary David Bernhardt's staff intentionally left controversial meetings with representatives of fossil fuel, timber and water interests off his public calendar, citing "internal protocol" governing his schedules.

The department also confirmed that Bernhardt used a personal itinerary kept on a single Google document that was regularly overwritten by his scheduling staff and said he is still doing so as House Democrats probe whether the practice adheres to federal records laws.

UH HUH. Surely the Interior Department's crack PR team will craft a coherent response to the crisis. Work your magic, Faith Vander Voort!

Hours after the [Oversight] hearing, Vander Voort told CQ Roll Call that [Rep. Elijah] Cummings had "mischaracterized" the department's records practices, was "pushing" a "falsehood," and was "purposefully ignoring the facts." In an April 3 email to CQ Roll Call, she said plainly, "No, he did not keep his personal schedule within a Google document."

In a recent interview, however, Vander Voort confirmed that the daily cards were created from a single Google document that was edited by staff regularly. But she said that "it's false to say" he kept his "calendar" in a Google document, because the "cards" were a "reflection" of the calendars. She said Interior Department counsel and its records management staff have determined that the department is in compliance with federal records laws.

"It was reflected in a Google document. I will not say that his calendar was kept in a Google document. Because there's no legal protocol that says how we label our calendar. [The cards are] a 'reflection' of the calendar," Vander Voort said.

Knocked it outta the park!

So now, in response to numerous complaints from Democratic senators and outside watch groups, the Interior Department's ethics division has opened an investigation into Bernhardt's "potential conflicts of interest and other violations." And the House Natural Resources Committee will be holding hearings on the Secretary's shenanigans on May 15.

Former Secretary Ryan Zinke must be so proud of his protegé! Bet he'd like to buy his old pal David lunch somewhere just to talk shop, maybe bounce around some ideas about the natural gas company that just hired Zinke for his ... expertise. Zinke signed that ethics pledge pinky swearing never to lobby the Trump administration, but, you know, DC is just so BIG! Anyway, the important thing is, it's not lobbying if you phone downstairs to some low-level staffer whose job depends on your good graces and get him to bless it retroactively.


[Ethics Pledge / NYT / Roll Call]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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