Energy & Environment

Files show Trump Interior nominee lobbied after saying he had stopped: report

Greg Nash

David Bernhardt, President Trump’s choice to lead the Department of the Interior, continued to lobby even after saying he had stopped, according to a report in The New York Times.

A 2017 invoice showed Bernhardt lobbied for a major client for several months after filing paperwork saying he had ended his lobbying activities, the Times reported Thursday.

Bernhardt continued work for Westlands Water District, a major agribusiness group in California, as late as April 2017, the month he was nominated to his current role as deputy secretary of the department. He filed paperwork to end his status as a federal lobbyist in November 2016.

{mosads}Bernhardt spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said the invoice resulted from inappropriate billing and that the deputy secretary “engaged in various legal services” to support Westlands — but not lobbying.

“These efforts do not constitute regulated lobbying activity,” she said in an email. “These allegations are nearly two years old and there is nothing to them.”

In a Thursday morning hearing to review Bernhardt’s nomination, Senate Energy and Natural Resources  Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) largely agreed.

“These articles contain no new information,” she said, adding that government ethics officials have found Bernhardt to be in good standing.

Westlands had been one of the deputy secretary’s main lobbying clients and paid Bernhardt $1.3 million between 2011 and 2016, according to The New York Times.

Good governance groups have repeatedly raised questions about Bernhardt’s longtime lobbying career and how it may impact his work.

Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, said Bernhardt shouldn’t even consider working on matters he was so close to while a lobbyist.

“That’s bad judgment, and it betrays the public’s trust,” she said on Twitter. “Political appointees are public servants. They aren’t lobbyists, and they aren’t paid by special interest groups like Westlands. They work for us, and they are paid by us. They should act like it.”

A previous New York Times article found Bernhardt made former client issues a priority, including when evaluating endangered species protections for a fish impacted by farming practices.

Bernhardt looked likely to be confirmed by the Senate despite calls from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that his nomination be delayed. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced his nomination Thursday with a 14-6 vote.

Tags Donald Trump Interior Department Lisa Murkowski Lobbying

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