rain.png
Friday July 1st, 2022 6:17PM

Democrats seek criminal charges against Trump Interior head

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee asked the Justice Department on Wednesday to investigate whether a Trump administration interior secretary engaged in possible criminal conduct while helping an Arizona developer get a crucial permit for a housing project.

The criminal referral says David Bernhardt pushed for approval of the project by developer Michael Ingram, a Republican donor and supporter of former President Donald Trump, despite a federal wildlife official's finding that it would threaten habitats for imperiled species.

Bernhardt led Interior from 2019 to 2021. In 2017, he was the No. 2 official at the department when the Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, reversed its opposition to the Villages at Vigneto, the proposed 28,000-home development in southern Arizona, and allowed it to move forward.

Democrat Reps. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the committee chairman, and Katie Porter of California, who leads a subcommittee on oversight and investigations, made the referral in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. They said the committee has conducted an extensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 2017 decision.

A high-ranking interior official had said issuing a Clean Water Act permit for the project could adversely affect endangered species or critical habitat in the area. The region is home to birds such as as the southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo, as well as the northern Mexican garter snake.

In their referral, Democrats say Ingram met with Bernhardt in August 2017, two weeks before a Fish and Wildlife official received the phone call directing him to reverse the decision blocking the project. The meeting was not disclosed in Bernhardt’s public calendar or travel documents.

Two months later, Ingram made a $10,000 donation to the Trump Victory Fund. The permit was approved later that month. At least nine other donors associated with Ingram also donated to the Trump Victory Fund in the days after Ingram's donation, Democrats said.

“Evidence strongly suggests the decision was the result of a quid pro quo between Vigneto’s developer, Michael Ingram, and senior level officials in the Trump administration,'' including Bernhardt, who was then the deputy Interior secretary, the Democrats wrote.

Ingram "had frequent access to high-ranking officials across the Trump administration,'' including Bernhardt, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and then-Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, Democrats said. Zinke, who led Interior from March 2017 to January 2019, met with Ingram in May 2017 and April 2018, the Democrats said in documents submitted with the referral. Zinke and his staff emailed Ingram multiple times, using personal email addresses, Democrats said.

Bernhardt, now a lawyer in private practice, called the Democrats' letter “a pathetic attempt by career politicians to fabricate news.”

A Justice Department spokesman said the department received the letter and will review it.

The lawmakers asked Garland to investigate and consider bringing criminal charges against Bernhardt or other officials.

"The findings of this investigation show us yet again that the previous administration cast career staff expertise aside while they handed out federal agency decisions to Trump’s buddies and big donors on a pay-to-play basis,” Grijalva said in a statement.

Porter said that “an exchange of money for a specific government action is the clearest form of corruption there is, and Americans — Democrats, Republicans and independents — share an understanding that this kind of quid pro quo erodes our democracy.”

Lanny Davis, a lawyer for El Dorado Holdings, a company owned by Ingram, called the referral by Grijalva and Porter “false, misleading (and) unfair" and said it used "innuendo as a surrogate for fact.''

El Dorado participated in multiple meetings with the committee, "acted in full transparency and gave full cooperation without a subpoena,'' Davis said in a statement. Even so, the company was denied the opportunity to rebut the allegations in the referral or even a chance to speak to Grijalva, Davis said.

"Unfortunately, the American people have been numbed and accustomed to political attacks that have little to do with the truth, and there needs to be bipartisan outrage when this occurs,'' added Davis, a prominent Democrat who was special counsel to former President Bill Clinton.

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the left-leaning Center for Western Priorities, called the allegations against Bernhardt “extremely serious,” adding that the Justice Department should launch a full investigation.

“We said all along that David Bernhardt was too compromised and too corrupt to be a cabinet secretary. This is damning evidence of a straight up pay-for-play favor,'' she said.

___

Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Business
© Copyright 2022 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
US finds 500 Native American boarding school deaths so far
A first-of-its-kind federal study of Native American boarding schools that for over a century sought to assimilate Indigenous children into white society has identified more than 500 student deaths at the institutions so far
2:33PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Slain Al Jazeera journalist was icon of Palestinian coverage
A veteran Al Jazeera correspondent who was shot dead while reporting on an Israeli raid in the West Bank was a highly respected and familiar face in the Middle East
2:24PM ( 13 minutes ago )
2 shootings leave 10 injured, 1 dead on Chicago's South Side
Police say one person was killed and 10 more were injured in two shootings on Chicago's South Side just six hours apart
2:19PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Democrats seek criminal charges against Trump Interior head
Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether a Trump administration Interior secretary engaged in possible criminal conduct while helping an Arizona developer get a crucial permit for a housing project
1:58PM ( 40 minutes ago )
Former La. police boss faces contempt in Ronald Greene probe
Lawmakers investigating the deadly arrest of Black motorist Ronald Greene have voted to hold the former head of the Louisiana State Police in contempt for defying a subpoena and refusing to turn over his handwritten journals
1:10PM ( 1 hour ago )
Live updates | Germany to train Ukraine on artillery system
The German army says it has begun training Ukrainian soldiers to use a powerful artillery system that Germany and the Netherlands plan to supply to Ukraine
1:08PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Judge: Trump must pay $110K, meet conditions to end contempt
A New York judge says he’s close to releasing Donald Trump from a contempt finding, but only if the former president meets certain conditions, including paying $110,000 in fines accrued for failing to turn over documents in a state civil investigation
1:53PM ( 45 minutes ago )
Live updates | Italy’s premier pushes for talks to end war
Italy’s premier said Wednesday that Ukraine’s leaders must start shaping their terms for an acceptable peace deal, especially in light of Russia’s surprising failure to win its war outright
1:51PM ( 47 minutes ago )
Britain pledges to come to Sweden's aid if attacked
Britain has signed a security assurance with Sweden which like its neighbor Finland is pondering whether to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pledging to “bolster military ties” in the event of a crisis and support both countries should they come under attack
1:40PM ( 57 minutes ago )
AP Business
Slain Al Jazeera journalist was icon of Palestinian coverage
A veteran Al Jazeera correspondent who was shot dead while reporting on an Israeli raid in the West Bank was a highly respected and familiar face in the Middle East
2:24PM ( 14 minutes ago )
US finds 500 Native American boarding school deaths so far
A new federal study shows the U.S. government supported more than 400 Native American boarding schools aimed at assimilating Native children
2:21PM ( 16 minutes ago )
2 shootings leave 10 injured, 1 dead on Chicago's South Side
Police say one person was killed and 10 more were injured in two shootings on Chicago's South Side just six hours apart
2:19PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Israeli minister pledges full probe into killing of reporter
Israel’s defense minister has promised a thorough investigation of the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh and asked that Palestinian officials hand over the bullet that killed her
2:17PM ( 20 minutes ago )
Conservative groups go against Trump, Oz in Pa. Senate race
Several prominent conservative groups are lining up behind Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Kathy Barnette as an alternative to Mehmet Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon endorsed by former President Donald Trump
2:17PM ( 20 minutes ago )