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Third Conflict of Interest Complaint Against Interior Secretary David Bernhardt

Third Time Is a Charm?

By Craig Holman

View Full Complaint as PDF

August 19, 2020

Heather Gottry
Designated Agency Ethics Official
U.S. Department of Interior
1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop 7352
Washington, D.C.  20240

Dear Ms. Gottry:

On March 20, 2018, and again on February 12, 2019, Public Citizen wrote to your office expressing concern that David Bernhardt, now Secretary of Interior, worked on particular issues on behalf of specific parties as part of his previous occupation as an energy lobbyist that seem to pose serious conflicts of interest with his official duties. Public Citizen requested that your office investigate whether such conflicts of interest may present violations of paragraphs 6 and 7 of President Donald Trump’s ethics Executive Order No. 13770 and perhaps the conflict of interest code itself.

Both requests for an investigation went unanswered and so, presumably, were dismissed.

Last week, the independent Office of Inspector General for the Interior Department found that department staff deliberately withheld 253 pages of documents from the Senate and House Natural Resources Committees as well as the public that may have provided further insight into Bernhardt’s potential conflicts of interest.[1] Following Bernhardt’s confirmation as Secretary of the Interior in April 2019, the department staff eventually released redacted versions of all but 38 pages of these documents. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called for a criminal investigation as to whether Interior Department staff orchestrated a cover-up to protect Bernhardt during his confirmation hearing.[2]

The withholding of these documents from congressional and public view may well have unduly influenced the confirmation of Bernhardt as Interior Secretary. In the same vein, if these documents were kept from your office, the withholding of pertinent information related to Bernhardt may also have unduly influenced the decision by the Interior Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) not to carry through with an investigation of potential conflicts of interest.

In light of these recent revelations of withheld information regarding Bernhardt, Public Citizen requests that the ethics office of the Department of Interior scrutinize these recently-released documents and other relevant information and investigate whether David Bernhardt’s previous occupation as a lobbyist on energy affairs and other natural resources issues[3] involves sufficient conflicts of interest to cause violations of paragraphs 6 and 7 of Trump’s ethics Executive Order or the conflict of interest code (18 U.S.C. §208).

Public Citizen’s previous complaints are attached on the .pdf.


Respectfully Submitted,

Craig Holman, Ph.D.
Government affairs lobbyist
Public Citizen
215 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Washington, D.C.  20003
(202) 454-5182


[1] Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Interior, Alleged interference in POIA litigation process (Aug. 11, 2020) available at: https://www.doioig.gov/reports/alleged-interference-foia-litigation-process

[2] Chair Raul Grijalva, House Natural Resources Committee, Press release (Aug. 11, 2020), available at: https://naturalresources.house.gov/media/press-releases/wyden-and-grijalva-on-new-interior-inspector-general-report-officials-orchestrated-a-cover-up-to-protect-secretary-bernhardt-during-his-confirmation

[3] Public Citizen, Bernhardt Buddies: Conflicts of Interest Abound at Trump’s Interior Department (January 15, 2020) https://www.citizen.org/article/bernhardt-buddies/