House committee refers former Interior Secretary Bernhardt to DOJ over criminal bribery allegations

washington d.c. — David Bernhardt, a former Secretary of the Interior under President Donald Trump and a lobbyist for the Westlands Water District and Big Oil who oversaw the creation of the environmentally devastating Trump Water Plan in California, is back in the news on the corruption allegations he engaged in during his tenure as secretary.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Katie Porter (D-Calif.) today made a criminal referral to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Outlining Probable Criminal’s Evidence misunderstanding between Trump administration officials, including former U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) secretary David Bernhardt, and real estate developer Mike Ingram.

“Ingram is the owner of El Dorado Holdings, which has proposed to build the Villages at Vigneto (Vigneto), a 28,000-unit residential and commercial development spanning more than 12,000 acres near the San Pedro River on the way of disappearance in Benson, Arizona,” according to a press release from Grijalva and Porter. “Evidence from the Committee’s investigation strongly suggests that Ingram and several other Arizona donors gave nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Trump Victory Fund and the Republican National Committee in return for the U.S. changing position. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on a Clean Water Act Permit for Vigneto.

The redacted criminal referral to the DOJ is available here:

“The findings of this investigation show us once again that the previous administration set aside the expertise of career staff as it relayed decisions from federal agencies to Trump cronies and major donors on a paid basis. “, said President Grijalva. “The Villages of Vigneto may not be a household name for many Americans, but for Arizonans it has posed an imminent threat to our fragile desert ecosystem for years. Allowing the development of 28,000 homes, golf courses, resorts and other commercial buildings to suck the San Pedro River dry during an unprecedented drought is nonsense on the face of it and agency staff had reason to be concerned.

“It seems the developer of Vigneto thought behind-the-scenes deals with senior Trump officials would be a more fruitful avenue to get what he wants – it’s a shame he wasn’t wrong. I strongly urge the Department of Justice to undertake this investigation and ensure that the right people are held accountable for what they did and how they betrayed the trust of the American people,” he said. -he declares.

“An exchange of money for specific government action is the clearest form of corruption, and Americans – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – share an understanding that this kind of quid pro quo erodes our democracy,” Rep. Porter said. “In this case, our surveillance found that the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior had canceled local career professionals and reversed a longstanding position on environmental review requirements, just weeks after donors politically connected have made nearly a quarter of a million dollars in contributions to benefit the Trump campaign.

“This disturbing pattern of facts demands at a minimum further investigation, so that the American people have answers on whether the Trump administration was acting in the public interest or in the interest of the highest bidder. We ask the Department of Justice to fully investigate and determine if criminal charges are appropriate,” Porter added.

Environment and fisheries groups cheered the House committee’s referral of Bernardt to the Justice Department over criminal bribery allegations.

“We have always said that David Bernhardt is too compromised and too corrupt to be Cabinet Secretary,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. “This is overwhelming evidence of a direct payment favor for gambling.”

John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA), noted in a tweet: “Bernhardt also ordered federal authorities to enact a water distribution plan to kill salmon in California. Westlands and Resnicks took advantage. @CAgovernor embraces it in the VA (voluntary agreements).

The Westlands Water District, located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, is the nation’s largest agricultural water district. The district has always been an advocate for increased water deliveries to almond, pistachio and fruit growers who cultivate land with impaired drainage on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. They are big contributors to the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats who support bulk water exports to big-ticket agribusinesses for endangered Delta smelt, spring and winter Chinook salmon, trout central valley rainbow and green sturgeon.

Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of The Wonderful Company, are the world’s largest fruit tree growers. They have contributed several million dollars to candidates on both sides of the political aisle and to proposal campaigns so they can continue to sell public water back to the public at huge profit while promoting legislation and other efforts. to weaken laws protecting fish, wildlife and water. For more information, visit:…

Background to the survey

In April 2019, the Arizona Daily Star‘s Tony Davis reported the whistleblower account of Steve Spangle, a now-retired field supervisor at FWS’ Arizona office, who claimed he was directed by a ‘high-level politician’ to reverse the position of FWS on whether issuance of a Clean Water Act permit for Vigneto could potentially have adverse impacts on endangered species or critical habitat. Later reports revealed that Undersecretary Bernhardt led the reversal of the decision. Spangle noted that he had never faced such pressure in his more than three decades in public service.

Additional reports revealed that Dep. Secretary Bernhardt had a private breakfast in Billings, Montana, with Mike Ingram on August 18, 2017, two weeks before Spangle received the phone call ordering him to reverse Vigneto’s decision. The meeting was not disclosed in Bernhardt’s public calendar or travel documents. Then, on October 6, 2017, Ingram made an unusual off-cycle donation of $10,000 to the Trump Victory Fund. Less than three weeks later, on October 26, 2017, Spangle officially reversed FWS’ decision on Vigneto.

New evidence uncovered in committee investigation

The Committee launched an investigation into the Vigneto decision shortly after the incident became public knowledge. Committee staff obtained multiple productions of documents from the DOI and El Dorado, conducted a closed-door review of documents at the DOI, interviewed DOI Chief of Staff Todd Willens, and reviewed the records of the Federal Election Commission.

The Committee’s investigation uncovered several additional pieces of evidence in the case, which now warrant a criminal investigation by the DOJ:

  • A thorough review of the document productions shows that FWS Career Managers, including Spangle and his colleagues at the FWS Arizona Field Office, the FWS Regional Office, and the DOI Attorney’s Office all maintained consensus on FWS’ legal position on Vigneto for over a year. decade before Bernhardt demanded that Spangle reverse that position. After being ordered to reverse the decision, career FWS and DOI staff struggled to credibly defend the new position, citing concerns it appeared to have been ‘arbitrarily hijacked’ .
  • Ingram was not the only person to make a significant donation to the campaign on October 6, 2017. Twelve other people from Arizona, most of whom have personal or professional ties to Ingram, donated a total of $241,600 to the Trump Victory Fund or the Republican National. Committee on or about the same day. The 13 people donated in a similar pattern, indicating a coordinated effort. Clearly, throughout the 2017-18 election cycle, there hasn’t been another day that more than three people from Arizona have donated $2,700 or more to the Trump Victory Fund.
  • On the same day as Ingram’s donation, October 6, 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would reassess Vigneto’s Clean Water Act permit. There is evidence that Ingram was notified of this announcement, which gave him time to coordinate the donations.
  • Ingram had frequent access to several senior Trump officials, including personal email addresses and cell phone numbers, indicating a high level of influence within the administration.

This is the first time the Natural Resources Committee has sent a criminal referral to the DOJ.

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