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Ex-Interior official violated Trump ethics pledge by meeting with former associates: watchdog

Ex-Interior official violated Trump ethics pledge by meeting with former associates: watchdog
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A former top Interior Department political appointee violated his ethics pledge by taking a meeting with an organization he previously volunteered for, according to a new report from the department’s watchdog.

The report does not identify the official by name, but sources told The Hill the employee in question is Todd Wynn, the former head of Interior’s Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs.

The report from Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found Wynn violated the Trump ethics pledge, which requires political appointees to recuse themselves from matters involving their former employers or clients for their first two years on the job.

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Wynn, now a lobbyist for a major Arizona utility, took a meeting with Rich Lindsey, an energy committee policy consultant from the Council of State Governments.

Wynn previously was on the board of trustees for the Council of State Governments 21st Century Foundation, according to a 2019 request for investigation filed by the Campaign Legal Center. OIG determined the position qualified as a former client under the ethics pledge.

That same Campaign Legal Center request asks for investigations into six other high-ranking Interior officials. One of those officials, Assistant Interior Secretary Douglas Domenech, was later found to have misused his position by seeking a government job for his son-in-law.

“We identified a number of interactions between the senior political employee and representatives of the former employer—namely, three phone calls and multiple email exchanges [and] one in-person meeting,” OIG wrote, and though “relatively minor in nature, we found that the senior political employee nonetheless did not comply with the ethics pledge.”

The report details that Wynn was not aware his association with the foundation would qualify as employment and bar him from meeting with Lindsey.

“The senior political employee said he understood from that training that he could not communicate with the employer he worked for prior to his volunteer work for the organization. He said, however, that he never considered the organization to be a former employer because he was a volunteer and his position was unpaid,” the report states.

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The report also describes an account from Wynn where he sought advice from then director of the ethics office Scott de la Vega while passing in the hallway who told him, “You don’t have a problem.” 

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group, said Wynn erred in not seeking the advice in writing, adding that this is “not an isolated case.”

“This is part of a pattern of ethical conflicts that stretched from Wynn all the way up to [Interior Secretary David] Bernhardt,” he said. 

In Interior’s response to the report, the department wrote that “upon receiving accurate and comprehensive ethics guidance, there were no violations” beyond those identified in the report.