Donald Trump Admin Blindsided By Wednesday Federal Ethics Complaint

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The Trump administration continues to prove wracked by corruption. After Trump appointee Interior Secretary David Bernhardt got hit with an investigation from the agency’s internal watchdog over his ongoing ties to the private sector within just days of assuming his position, that department has now been hit with another complaint and lawsuit over officials who according to those behind the efforts, should definitely not be in their present positions.

In a complaint filed with that same Interior Department watchdog, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) outlines a pattern of Bernhardt and his immediate predecessor Ryan Zinke circumventing the legally mandated Senate confirmation process associated with certain positions across federal government and instead opting to have political appointees serve in those positions without the outside oversight. In their press release, the group singles out Karen Budd-Falen’s case for scrutiny, pointing out how after having “spent her career challenging the legitimacy of federal wildlife protections,” she now serves as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. In that role, she oversees “all Interior actions by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.”

The group’s Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins shared:

‘Putting Karen Budd-Falen in this position is like putting Genghis Khan in charge of a day care center. Since David Bernhardt knows Budd-Falen is so right wing that she could never be confirmed for the job he just gave her, this maneuver only underlines the Administration’s continuing contempt for the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent prerogative.’

As the group notes, the administration does finally have a presidential nominee named, but it’s unclear when the Senate might even take up that case. There are, however, still no presidentially nominated Directors of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and there aren’t even any apparent nominations on the table at present. PEER argues that policy moves undertaken in the name of these positions without any long-term occupants actually in them undercuts the legitimacy of that policy that, of course, by and large has been against environmental protection and in favor of activities like oil and gas drilling.

Besides the complaint this group filed this week with the inspector general overseeing the Interior Department seeking a review of the political appointees getting improperly elevated, they also hit Bernhardt’s office itself with a lawsuit following their failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking related documents. Although this inquiry is coming from a third party, in the face of Congressional investigations the Trump administration has at this point long established its penchant for stonewalling in the face of scrutiny.

Even still, corruption issues persist. Besides these cases, there has been repeated scrutiny on the Interior Department over officials in addition to Bernhardt maintaining connections to their private industry contacts.

More than one official has met, while on the job, with an interest they previously worked for, and subsequently, the Interior Department has rolled out policy in favor of those previous employers. An example would be the department keeping recreational shooting available at the Sonoran Desert National Monument, which the National Rifle Association (NRA) had advocated for including via meeting with former NRA lobbyist Benjamin Cassidy, who’s now Interior Department’s Senior Deputy Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs.

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