President Trump's often-repeated campaign promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington of special interests is getting yet another test.
The Interior Department’s internal watchdog office is looking to see whether six of Trump's appointees in the department have violated federal ethics rules by engaging with their former employers or clients on department-related business, Juliet Eilperin and I reported Tuesday.
To avoid conflicts of interest, Trump signed an executive order days after taking office that requires appointees to recuse themselves from specific matters involving their former employers and clients for two years.
But a complaint from the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, which sparked the inspector general's probe, outlines how a half-dozen of his political appointees at Interior continued to discuss policy matters with organizations that had employed them in the past.
The officials being investigated include:
- Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular and international affairs. The Guardian reported in May 2018 that Domenech, the highest-ranking official named in the complaint, continued to interact with the conservative think tank that used to employ him before he joined Interior. Domenech’s calendars indicated that he twice met with representatives from the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation on an endangered species listing and a property dispute. The group had lawsuits pending with Interior over both issues and resolved the fight over private property near Texas’s Red River six months after the meeting with Domenech.
- Benjamin Cassidy, a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, who has attracted significant attention for his past work on gun-related issues since joining the department as senior deputy director at its Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs. Calendars released by Interior show Cassidy participating in a December 2017 meeting regarding Trump’s decision to scale back two national monuments in Utah, even though Cassidy had lobbied Congress on a bill addressing the president’s ability to establish national monuments just months earlier.
- Lori Mashburn, White House liaison. The center alleges the former associate director at the conservative Heritage Foundation violated her ethics pledge by attending multiple private events held by her former employer.
“This is demonstrative of the failures at the very top of this administration to set an ethical tone,” Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said. “When people come to work for government, they’re supposed to work on behalf of the public. It’s a betrayal of the public trust when senior political appointees seem to give privileged access to their former employers or former clients.”
The move comes a week after Interior's inspector general's office launched a probe into whether Interior Secretary David Bernhardt violated federal conflict of interest rules by weighing in on policies that could affect the former clients he represented while working at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
Bernhardt, who was confirmed earlier this month, has denied any wrongdoing and said he has cleared any action affecting his former employer or clients with the department’s ethics office.
Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in an email that while the department does not typically comment on personnel matters, the secretary’s office “immediately consulted” with department ethics officials after receiving the center’s complaint in February.
“Ethics reviewed each matter and provided materials to the chief of staff, who has taken appropriate actions. All of these materials have been provided to the inspector general,” said Vander Voort, who declined to specify what actions the department had taken. “The department takes ethics issues seriously.”
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— More potential lobbying issues: This time, it's over at the Enviromental Protection Agency. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is asking agency chief Andrew Wheeler why he left a former client, Darling Ingredients, off of financial disclosure forms. The chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee found documents about Wheeler's lobbying work for Darling that "raise concerns that you may have failed to identify other clients who paid for your services as a lobbyist during the period covered by your disclosure report," he and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Wheeler. Darling Ingredients makes ingredients for fertilizers, animal feed and other products.
— Another day, another lawsuit against the Trump administration: A bevy of environmental and public health advocacy groups — including the mothers of two men who died from methylene chloride exposure — sued the EPA over not including professional contractors in a ban on that toxic solvent. It's at least the second such lawsuit over the agency's efforts to craft a rule regulating the paint-stripping chemical in a way that satisfies both manufactures and consumer advocates.
— Two more states pass clean energy bills: In a flurry of votes in recent days pegged to Earth Day, the state legislatures in Washington and Nevada each passed measures aiming to eliminate climate-warming emissions from the states' electricity sectors.
In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed a bill setting a goal of zero carbon emissions from power producers by the middle of the century, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. The governor's mansion in Carson City was one of several that Democrats took back in the 2018 blue-wave election.
And in Washington, presidential candidate Jay Inslee (D), whose day job is still governor of the state, is about to cement to big legislative win on climate change after years of struggling to do so. This week, state lawmakers passed a pair of climate bills, including one that phases the state away from fossil-fuel-generated electricity by 2045, the Seattle Times reports.
Make that five: The two states join Hawaii, California, and New Mexico as the only ones with legal mandates to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. Lawmakers in other blue states like New York and Massachusetts are considering codifying similar requirements for 100 percent clean energy.
— National Aquarium’s plan to relocate dolphins delayed by climate change: "For more than two years, the National Aquarium’s seven bottlenose dolphins have been training for a drastic move in 2020 from their home in a Baltimore amphitheater to the nation’s first oceanside sanctuary in Florida or the Caribbean," Lillian Reed reports for The Post. "However prepared the pod might be for the move, though, National Aquarium chief executive John Racanelli says they will probably have to wait beyond the 2020 target moving date to leave Baltimore, in part because of climate change. Aquarium officials have reviewed — and vetoed — more than 50 potential sanctuary locations from consideration because of unclean water caused by human development or the threat posed by climate-change-related events such as sea-level rise, rapid seaweed blooms in warming waters and extreme storms."
— "Awash in oil": Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow tried to tamp down concerns that sanctioning buyers of Iranian oil will tighten petroleum markets and, in turn, raise fuel prices right before the summer driving season. "The world is awash in oil," Kudlow told an audience at the National Press Club, per The Hill. "The center of the world energy system is the United States. We’re the driver."
What's actually happening: Oil prices surge to a six-month high after the State Department announcement, with the cost of the international benchmark Brent crude nearing $75 per barrel Tuesday. Analysts told the Associated Press that the price "could rise to $80 per barrel or higher, depending on what happens in other countries where supply is at risk."
- Politico hosts an event on disaster relief in an era of extreme weather.
- The U.S. Energy Association and Society of Petroleum Engineer’s National Capital Section holds a joint briefing on energy sustainability.
- The Wilson Center holds an event on sustainable development goals in Asia and the U.N. on Thursday.
— America’s new pastime? Milking goats: "Dairy goat herds expanded faster than any other major livestock group over the past decade, growing 61 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture," The Post's Laura Reiley and Andrew Van Dam report. "The surge comes as goats have permeated pop culture. We have seen them frolicking and doing parkour while sporting adorable onesies on YouTube. We have maybe hoisted a 20-pound Nubian aloft in everybody’s favorite novelty yoga practice. Rent-a-goats are running amok in Boise and helping clear brush and prevent wildfires in California."