Democratic senator vows to fight Trump Interior nominee after requesting perjury investigation

Democratic senator vows to fight Trump Interior nominee after requesting perjury investigation
© Aaron Schwartz

A Democratic senator is working to block a Trump nominee from serving as the top lawyer for the Department of the Interior and calling for an investigation after the nominee appeared to lie to lawmakers during his confirmation hearing about the department's public records policy.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenElection security advocates see strong ally in Harris OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer | Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee | Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer MORE (D-Ore.) is requesting a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into Daniel Jorjani, currently the top lawyer at Interior who was nominated to officially take over as solicitor for the department. 

“Attempts by political appointees at the Interior Department to delay, stonewall and otherwise inhibit public and Congressional oversight are totally unacceptable,” Wyden said in a statement. “I cannot allow Mr. Jorjani’s nomination to proceed. I will object to any unanimous consent agreement to consider his nomination.” 

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Jorjani’s confirmation hearing was already a notable one, given that he was already connected to numerous issues being internally investigated by the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General.

The man nominated to lead that office, Mark Greenblatt, testified alongside Jorjani that day. 

But during the hearing, senators became annoyed by Jorjani’s responses to their questions, particularly those that inquired about a new policy at Interior that allows political appointees to review public records requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Jorjani told lawmakers, “I myself don’t review FOIAs or make determinations.”

That comment has already spurred a request for an investigation from one environmental group, but Wyden’s letters asked both the Interior’s watchdog and the DOJ to investigate. They argue that cannot be true given Jorjani’s role overseeing FOIAs for the department. 

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Wyden, who pressed Jorjani for details on how the review process for political appointees works, say documents from the department show political appointees were given power “well beyond the written policy Mr. Jorjani cited.” 

Interior said they believed Jorjani would still be confirmed.

"Dan Jorjani has a solid record of honorably serving the American people," spokeswoman Molly Block said in a statement to The Hill. "The U.S. Department of the Interior is the only Department who has never had a Senate confirmed lawyer under the Trump Administration. Given this fact, we’re confident the Senate will prioritize the confirmation of this highly qualified individual who has been leading transparency efforts at the Department when they return in September." 

Jorjani is not just in hot water for his comments at the hearing but also for written responses he sent afterward, which repeatedly directed Wyden to get in touch with Interior’s congressional liaison for more information. 

“I cannot a recall a nominee ever coming through this committee and responding to my requests for information by telling me to go ask somebody else,” Wyden said the day Jorjani was voted out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. 

All Democrats on the committee voted against Jorjani’s nomination.

“The solicitor must uphold the law above all else about, above party politics and ideology. That was not the sense I got,” about Jorjani, ranking member Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic MORE (D-W.Va.) told the committee. He also said Wyden’s questions “lacked the response it deserved” from Jorjani.

Updated 1:19 p.m.