Horse News

Zinke may soon be gone from the Interior Department, but his successor could be much, much worse

By as published on the

“Deputy Secretary Bernhardt acts in accord with his ethics agreement … not the opinion of rabid advocates whose primary purpose is character assassination…”

Another preservationist at Interior: Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, with friend, could be Secretary Ryan Zinke’s successor. (Department of the Interior)

As a chapter in the lesson plan instructing you to be careful what you wish for, let us consider the case of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the ever-increasing possibility that he soon will be ousted over ethics concerns.

Last week, President Trump said that Zinke’s job was safe — for the moment. But his tenure at Interior plainly is perched on a knife edge. His departure would remove from the Cabinet a member devoted to environmentally dubious oil drilling, to wasteful and foolish water projects and to feathering his own nest.

That prospect warrants taking a close look at his likeliest successor, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt. And to the possibility that, compared with Zinke, Bernhardt will be much, much worse.

Zinke’s departure isn’t a done deal, and there’s been no indication that if he’s ousted, Bernhardt’ will necessarily be his successor. But it’s proper to keep Bernhardt’s career in perspective as an example of the Washington revolving door made flesh.

Bernhardt was a lawyer at the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which represented companies in the oil, gas, mining and agriculture industries, when he was first appointed to the Interior Department by President George W. Bush in 2001.

When the Obama administration took office in 2009, Bernhardt returned to the Brownstein firm. There his client roster included pantloads of entities with current or potential cases within Interior’s jurisdiction. As my colleague Bettina Boxall reported, Brownstein Hyatt sued Interior four times on behalf of California’s Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest irrigation district. And Bernhardt personally argued one case challenging endangered species protections for California salmon.

Despite these potential conflicts — or perhaps in recognition of them — President Trump named Bernhardt deputy Interior secretary in late 2016. He was confirmed in July 2017, and promptly filed a disclosure letter listing 22 firms or individuals on whose cases he would have to recuse himself at least until mid-2019, according to executive branch policy.

He also filed a financial disclosure revealing that he had collected $953,085 as a partnership distribution upon leaving the Brownstein firm to take up his government post.

Since then, however, questions have persisted over whether Bernhardt really has kept his nose out of issues dear to the hearts of his former clients. One problem is that the connections between agency policies, Bernhardt’s role and the benefits to his former clients aren’t always direct or crystal clear.

In August, for instance, Bernhardt produced an op-ed for the Washington Post that amounted to a broadside against the Endangered Species Act, the law over which he had sued Interior on behalf of Westlands. Bernhardt’s advocacy of a rollback of the law, as we observed at the time, would sit very warmly within the hearts of Westlands and other former clients.

An Interior spokeswoman responded furiously to my question about whether the op-ed bespoke a conflict of interest for Bernhardt. “This question is outrageous,” Deputy Press Secretary Faith Vander Voort emailed me. She said Bernhardt “is completely compliant with his ethics agreement and he takes it very seriously. The Administration’s interest in improving the Endangered Species Act is significant and it is irresponsible to insinuate that it was driven by the Deputy Secretary’s prior employment.”…(CONTINUED)

5 replies »

  1. Now is the time to deluge the White House with letters & e-mail to get someone in the position who is animal friendly, This movement seems to be growing daily and we should have a say as to the fate of these horses and the interior. We do have someone who is open to those who are persistant in their actions. The President is not an animal person, doesn’t like animals so he should bow out of decisions when it comes to saving them and no Slaughter. I know the Cattle & Sheep Rancher is top priority business, but so are the people who buy and use that product.

    Liked by 2 people


    “The Guy Doing the Dirty Work” at Trump’s Interior Department is an Ex-Oil Lobbyist Straight Out of the Swamp
    “Bernhardt knows where all the skeletons are and the strings to pull.”

    Unlike many in the nation’s capital, acknowledgement seems less important to Bernhardt than behind-the-scenes power. And the latter he has. As Zinke ticked off the accomplishments of his first year—fulfilling the president’s vision for “energy dominance,” selling off public lands, and taking on the Endangered Species Act—he might as well have been naming feathers in Bernhardt’s cap. This stout, unobtrusive, middle-aged man in square glasses has been one of the most effective officials in the Trump administration, and after 14 months on the job, he appears to be within striking distance of taking over the department that oversees a fifth of the nation’s landmass.


    • Trump administration will ban lobbyists, enact five-year lobbying ban after leaving government

      Donald Trump’s transition team on Wednesday announced that registered state and federal lobbyists will not be allowed to serve in the Trump administration, and people who leave the administration will have to wait five years before they can become lobbyists.

      “It goes back to Trump’s goal to make sure people aren’t using government to enrich themselves,” transition spokesman Sean Spicer said on a call with reporters. “The key thing for this administration is going to be that people going out of government won’t be able to use that service to enrich themselves for a five-year period.”

      Every person who joins the administration will be asked to sign a lobbying ban form that states they are not a registered lobbyist. If they are, they will have to provide evidence of their termination.

      The policy comes after days of criticism over Trump’s inclusion of lobbyists on the transition team, despite his campaign pledge to keep special interests out of Washington.


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