Bernhardt’s Schedules Show Undisclosed Contacts With Industry
WASHINGTON — Recently posted versions of acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s daily schedules contain at least 260 differences from his original schedules, with the newest records showing meetings previously described as “external” or “internal” were actually with representatives of fossil fuel, timber, mining and other industries, according to a review by CQ Roll Call.
Events left out of the original calendars but now disclosed or detailed further include a keynote address at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for the industry group Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, encounters with executives at Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell, and a meeting with the chairman of a conservative group Bernhardt previously represented in litigation that environmentalists believe was geared toward weakening the Endangered Species Act.
Lawmakers are interested in his calendars because of his previous career as an energy lobbyist, which required him to sign an ethics agreement when he joined the Interior Department in August 2017 that prohibits him from “personally and substantially” participating in “any particular matter” involving groups he used to represent.
Bernhardt’s original schedules only vaguely described with whom he met. Interior quietly posted the new documents on April 2, two days before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved his nomination to become the secretary in a non-acting capacity. The full Senate could vote on his nomination as soon as this week.
The previously unreported details of the meetings raise fresh questions about how he’s spent his time as a government official and how he’s adhered to federal record-keeping laws.
The new records, which Interior calls “daily cards,” are summaries of Bernhardt’s calendar the department say served as reminders for his “upcoming events.”
In a statement, Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said Bernhardt is “committed to securing written advice before taking any action involving former lobbying clients.”
“(He) actively seeks and consults with the department’s designated ethics officials for advice on particular matters involving former clients, and the acting secretary has implemented a robust screening process to ensure that he does not meet with his former firm or former clients to participate in particular matters involving specific parties that the acting secretary has committed to recuse himself from,” Vander Voort said April 5.
More than 100 of the previously undetailed interactions involved meetings on policy items, including the federally protected American burying beetle and sage grouse, implementation of public records law, litigation around national monuments and numerous specific environmental impact statements.
The daily card for Feb. 27, 2018, shows Bernhardt had a 10:30 a.m. meeting with Jean Sagouspe, chairman of the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability, or CESAR, which is supported by conservative and libertarian groups who oppose many federal environmental regulations.
Bernhardt was a director at CESAR, and represented the group in litigation against the Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce protections of the American eel. Environmentalists have said the case was a legal tactic to make the Endangered Species Act unworkable and force lawmakers to rewrite it.
Visitor logs show that Sagouspe arrived at Interior at roughly 8:30 a.m. that day. The meeting is not on Bernhardt’s public calendar.
Another card for May 23, 2018, shows Bernhardt scheduled to meet with Cimarex Energy, a Denver-based natural gas company and member of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, another former client.
And on May 30 he was scheduled to meet with Rick Tallant, vice president of product for Shell Oil, a member of the National Ocean Industries Association, also a former client.
The ethics agreement lists CESAR, IPAA and NOIA as the organizations with whom he is not supposed to consult for at least a year after joining the department.
Bernhardt did meet with Sagouspe during that time and day, but was instead in the building to meet with Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, according to Vander Voort.
She also said the recusals from IPAA and NOIA did not apply to meetings with Cimarex or Shell Oil because “while he is recused from participating in particular matters involving specific parties” in each association, “the recusal does not automatically extend to all members.”
The new records also show previously undisclosed contacts between Bernhardt and Republican lawmakers, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Senate Environment and Public Works Chair John Barrasso of Wyoming, and the House Natural Resources Committee’s then-Chair Rob Bishop of Utah, who is now the ranking member.
Before they were publicly released, the cards were given to the House Natural Resources Committee as part of its investigation into how Bernhardt has documented his government time since joining Interior.
On Feb. 28 Bernhardt told House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona that he kept no other calendar than what was provided online previously.
But on March 25 the department provided Grijalva with roughly 7,000 documents described as his calendars and schedules, including hundreds of pages of what they described as his daily card.
“We’re not satisfied with the quality of what we received and the content of what we received,” Grijalva said April 3.
The committees are investigating how the department maintained these records, following a tip from the Center for Western Priorities, a left-leaning public lands advocacy group. The groups said an Interior employee told them Bernhardt’s schedule may have been kept on a Google document that was overwritten at the end of each day.
The center then passed the information to the House Oversight and Reform and Natural Resources committees.
The deletion of daily calendars could violate federal record-keeping laws, though Interior has denied the practice took place.
“No, he did not keep his personal schedule within a Google document,” Vander Voort said.
©2019 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved
Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
In The News
A federal judge in South Dakota sided with the Biden administration on Wednesday, upholding its decision to block Fourth of July fireworks at Mount Rushmore. The decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange temporarily ends a contentious legal battle that has been going on between... Read More
Wildlife advocates pressed the Biden administration on Wednesday to revive federal protections for gray wolves across the Northern Rockies after Republican lawmakers in Idaho and Montana made it much easier to kill the predators. The Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society and Sierra Club filed a... Read More
The Biden administration is opening up the northern and central coasts of California to the first commercial scale offshore wind farm projects in the region. The first location, called the Morro Bay 399 Area, is roughly 400 square miles off California’s central coast region, and the... Read More
WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a new division of the Missing and Murdered Unit will operate within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services. The new unit will direct federal resources in unsolved investigations into cases of missing and murdered... Read More
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — For decades, a public lands tug-of-war has played out over a vast expanse of southern Utah where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and cliff dwellings and distinctive twin buttes bulge from a grassy valley. A string of U.S. officials has heard from... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Monday confirmed New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, making her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet department and the first to lead the federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation's tribes for nearly two... Read More