The Department of the Interior’s Inspector General launched an investigation Monday into Interior Secretary David Bernhardt over possible ethics violations, The Washington Examiner reports.
The Senate voted 56 to 41 on March 11 to confirm Bernhardt to the position of Interior secretary. The Senate confirmed Bernhardt over the calls of Democrats who said that the then-nominee had too many ethical questions surrounding him to be trusted with the cabinet position.
Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico led the resistance against Bernhardt, calling to delay his confirmation until after an investigation could clear him of possible ethics violations during his time as deputy secretary of the Interior. The investigation launched Monday came at the behest of Senate Democrats, as well as other organizations.
“Secretary Bernhardt is hopeful the Inspector General will expeditiously complete a review of the facts associated with the questions raised by Democratic Members of Congress and D.C. political organizations,” DOI spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told The Washington Examiner.
The investigation is focusing on a particular case in which Bernhardt allegedly used his office to benefit a former client by actively lobbying for a certain department decision that would benefit them.
Some Democrats criticized Bernhardt throughout the confirmation process, zeroing in on his conflicts of interest. Before joining the Interior department, Bernhardt worked with and lobbied for a wide array of industry interests and businesses.
“I think you are so conflicted that if you get confirmed you are going to have one of two choices: one, you are going to have to disqualify yourself from so many matters I don’t know how you are going to spend your day; or two, you are going to be making decisions that either directly or indirectly benefit former clients and regularly violating your ethics pledge,” Wyden said during Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing.
Republicans defended Bernhardt’s experience and accused Democrats of judging him by a double-standard not used on former President Barack Obama’s appointments to the DOI.
“If the same standards had been applied to Sally Jewell, she wouldn’t have made it out of committee,” GOP Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said during Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing. “I think there is an absolute double standard being applied here that private and public experience on one side of the aisle seems to be a benefit and private and public experience on the other side of the aisle seems to be a detriment.”
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