The Trump administration keeps finding new ways to blast through precedent with their corruption. The Inspector General overseeing the Interior Department has now revealed that they have opened an investigation into apparently some half a dozen senior officials at the agency, ranging from Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech to Senior Deputy Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs Benjamin Cassidy.
The concerns over these and the rest of the officials rest with their apparent violation of legally binding pledges against cultivating conflicts of interest. The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) sparked the investigation with their assertion back in February that the officials had violated demands to recuse themselves from matters involving their former employers, which include interests as prominent as the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Cassidy’s case. After spending years lobbying on behalf of the NRA for measures like increased availability of public lands for hunting and recreational shooting, he kept up the exact same push once joining the Interior Department. After a successful push to stop the closure of the Sonoran Desert National Monument to “target shooting” that included an active NRA lobbyist getting in touch with Cassidy to push for keeping the monument open, the prominent “gun rights” organization took credit for the development suggesting Cassidy’s help was substantive.
That’s just one example of a number available. For example, in similar fashion to the Cassidy case, Domenech repeatedly met with his former employer the Texas Public Policy Foundation to discuss ongoing litigation they had against the department. He had previously participated on the conservative advocacy group’s side in similar cases they brought against the department he’s now supposed to help lead. Six months after his meetings, the feds settled one of the lawsuits he had discussed, and — surprise — the organization on the other side called the conclusion a “major win.”
The CLC insisted to the relevant IG in February:
‘Taken together, the violations outlined… suggest a disturbing pattern of misconduct across the Department of the Interior that warrants your office’s immediate attention.’
The Interior Department claims it is complying with the new investigation. It’s hardly alone — newly confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt found himself embroiled in a similar investigation after less than a week on the job.
The same office responsible for the new probe encompassing half a dozen senior officials revealed it was looking into complaints covering issues like Bernhardt continuing to work on a case for his former employer after assuming a position at the Interior Department. He’s also alleged to have leveraged his position for the benefit of a California group he once lobbied for — and to have even inappropriately blocked the release of a report outlining the harmful effects of a pesticide, which would obviously have significant positive impacts on business.
The issues aren’t confined there, either. The Interior Department’s IG referred an investigation of the last Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, to outside federal authorities for possible criminal charges involving his financial benefit from a land deal by the oil giant Halliburton. After all of these issues — and the list could go on and on — Trump still wants us to believe he’s got one of the best teams around.
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