Roscoe Moss Company

Former Secretary of Interior Cleared of Ethics Violations January 19, 2023

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By Don A. Wright

I received a heads up from an old friend Cole Rojewski concerning a report about former Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Rojewski is a partner & cofounder of the RBW Group. He is also former Director of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Department of the Interior and Chief of Staff for Congressman David Valadao.

“I wanted to flag a DOI OIG report that came out today, and I have attached a copy for your convenience. The Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General released a report – “Allegations of Ethics Violations by Former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Were Not Substantiated.”

The report concludes, “We did not substantiate any of the allegations regarding improper conduct by Mr. [David] Bernhardt. We also concluded that the evidence did not support the complainants’ allegations regarding the DEO’s [Departmental Ethics Office] review of Mr. Bernhardt’s potential conflicts of interest.”

Rojewski shared with me, “I am completely unsurprised to read today’s OIG’s findings that are an exoneration from baseless allegations hurled at former Secretary David Bernhardt. Bernhardt’s conduct while at Interior was a model of ethical compliance. Bernhardt is one of the most law-abiding, ethically-sound people I know, and these continued reports show he has always followed the letter of the law. Unsubstantiated allegations may make a flashy headline at the moment, but they sure don’t look very smart in the history books. Those who spent years attacking his character owe him an apology.”

Rojewski pointed out, “This DOI OIG report comes after years of baseless political attacks from former Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Raul Grijalva, Congressman Jared Huffman, former Congressman TJ Cox (who has himself been charged with multiple fraud schemes), and Senator Ron Wyden.”

Rojewski said this is now at least the third politically motivated attack these members made that has been found unsubstantiated. He offered the following:

  • In 2019, the OIG office released a report, “Investigative Report of Alleged Improper Influence by the Secretary of the Interior in the FWS’ Scientific Process,” which found that the former Secretary acted within his legal authority and did not violate his ethics pledge or Federal ethics regulations.
  • In 2021, the OIG office released a report, “Review of U.S. Park Police Actions at Lafayette Park”, which found that the evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church.
  • In 2022, the OIG office released a report, “Former Secretary’s Alleged Lobbying Disclosure Act Violation Before Joining the U.S. Department of the Interior as Deputy Secretary, which found that based on the evidence we obtained, we concluded that the conduct we identified, standing alone, did not show that Mr. Bernhardt acted as a lobbyist within the meaning of the statute after deregistration.”

A report in the Washington Examiner revealed Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren filed ethic complaints claiming Bernhardt tried to give Central Valley farmers an unfair advantage to get more irrigation supplies at the expense of the environment.

Another report in The Hill stated correctly, Bernhardt had represented Westlands Water District as an attorney in private practice before joining the Trump Administration in 2017. He went on to serve as Secretary of Interior from 2019-2021.

During this time, you may recall, Central Valley Project contractors were offered the opportunity under the WINN Act to convert their contracts to new ones with accelerated payoffs towards federal debt. These conversion contracts didn’t give any of the contractors greater supply allocations or reduce their obligations to payoff their share of the CVP. The CVP is administered by the US Bureau of Reclamation which in turn reports to the Department of Interior.

Due in part to Bernhardt’s legal work for Westlands Water District, WWD was slammed in the press. See a report on the subject. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

“According to the reports environmental interests claim this contract will kill off all manner of wildlife in the Delta and beyond. I’ve not seen any scenarios cited of how this will happen, just an announcement it will.

“The San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun newspapers both ran editorials urging readers to submit negative comments to the Bureau regarding the Westlands contract. To my knowledge the Mercury News has never supported any water related item that didn’t benefit itself. The Sun is worried the contracts will give Westlands more supplies which Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles will in turn take a like amount from the Colorado River. Presumably leaving less water for fountains to squirt hundreds of feet into the searing desert air in front of casinos.”

Another part of this story not often covered was who else received the same contract conversion Westlands sought. A conversion contract was given to the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The very same district that provides San Jose with its water from the CVP.

Also requesting the same contract conversion were amongst others: the cities of Folsom, Redding, West Sacramento, Roseville, the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, the San Benito County Water District and the Sacramento County Water Agency. Evidently these other contractors didn’t have a former consultant working for the Trump administration. This is as bright and shiny an example of political theater as any out there.

Wouldn’t it be something if the news organizations, politicians and special interest groups who did their best to tar and feather Bernhardt and did so with brushes big enough to smear Westlands at the same time apologized? I fear Bernhardt will never get an apology or even a recognition the charges were found baseless. After all he worked for Trump and for a certain political party and its allies that is literally an unforgiveable sin.

But what about Westlands? Will there be any apology to its staff and board and more importantly the men and women who farm in the district? What responsibility do political opponents have to the people they implicated in scandal – even tacitly – if their allegations prove false? If it’s found true that the claims were baseless? Absolute truth has to be the standard.

Redefining words to make them suit one’s purpose is a form of lying. (One of the reasons I no longer trust the Merriam Webster dictionary.) This changing the meanings of words is why I rail against the terms social justice and environmental justice. Something is just or it isn’t. Adding a prefix makes it a special interest talking point. If I’m a social justice advocate and you oppose what I advocate for you don’t support justice. What if what’s being advocated for is wrong?

Remember, “We hold these truths to be self-evident”? Remember also the truth will set you free. Freedom comes after truth. You can’t have freedom without truth. There are plenty of people in Washington DC and Sacramento who can’t define a woman as a female human based on biological facts. That’s part of the difference between city folks and country folks perhaps. There’s never been a bull or stallion or ram who decided they felt like a cow, mare or ewe. Two plus two does not equal five. The truth is the truth and it’s worth preserving and fighting for.

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