The Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) has cleared President Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary David Bernhardt of allegations of wrongdoing first pushed by the New York Times and then echoed by congressional Democrats.
The DOI’s Inspector General announced on Tuesday:
We investigated an allegation that Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, when he was the Deputy Secretary, interfered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS’) scientific process during an assessment of the effects of pesticides on endangered species. We investigated whether Secretary Bernhardt exceeded or abused his authority by influencing consultations between the FWS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the proposed registration or re-registration of three pesticides, and whether his involvement in the consultations violated his ethics pledge or Federal ethics regulations.
The Inspector General confirmed that Bernhardt committed no wrongdoing in his actions, despite allegations from the media and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The IG continued:
We found that Secretary Bernhardt reviewed a draft FWS opinion on the potential biological effects one of the three pesticides could have on endangered species, and he instructed the FWS team developing the opinion to change its method for determining the potential effects. This change has delayed the completion of the opinion, but we found no evidence that Secretary Bernhardt exceeded or abused his authority or that his actions influenced or altered the findings of career FWS scientists. We also found no evidence that Secretary Bernhardt’s involvement in this matter violated his ethics pledge or Federal ethics regulations.
The Times first reported—in what is now known to be demonstrably false—back in March 2019 that Bernhardt had led an “intervention” by the government that “blocked the release” of government findings that various pesticides “were so toxic that they ‘jeopardize the continued existence’ of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals.”
Democrats in both the House and Senate seized on the report from the Times’ Eric Lipton during Bernhardt’s U.S. Senate confirmation, using it to allege that Bernhardt was part of some conspiracy to help pesticide companies get away with harming the environment.
During Bernhard’s confirmation hearing on March 28, 2019, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) used the now-demonstrably false New York Times hit to pressure Bernhardt:
A transcript of the exchange between Wyden and Bernhardt on this—where Bernhardt correctly, as the Inspector General has now confirmed, noted that the Times piece was inaccurate—is as follows:
WYDEN: “I read Interior Department documents obtained through a FOIA request that showed in the last few years you blocked the release of a FWS report with a new analysis of the dangerous report of toxic chemicals. So you asked to come to my office to tell me your ethics are unimpeachable, but these brand new documents I just saw make you sound like just another corrupt official. Why would you come to my office to lie to me about your ethics?
BERNHARDT: “Senator, with all due respect, the news article you’re referring to is not even close to the actual…..”
WYDEN: “I read those documents. Forget the news article. I read the documents.”
BERNHARDT: “If you read those documents, and even in that article, the FWS employee that was quoted says everything was perfectly appropriate.
“Let me tell you what the challenge is when I get a document. I make decisions based on exactly the same standards as every, single thing that comes to my desk. And here are my standards: Have we appropriately dealt with the facts and the information as we see it? That’s a factual question. Have we dealt with the parameters of the law that we have? That’s a legal question and there’s also, at times, a policy question.
“In this particular issue, there’s no policy. There is a very significant and important thing. We’re dealing with some of the most difficult consultations on the planet. and when I read the document, what my reaction to it was: This is really an interesting draft, but it clearly didn’t have any legal review. And in our world, you can’t ignore the law and come up with a scheme. You have to have it fit the law and the facts.
“So I basically said let’s go kick it over to career lawyers have them look at it and their assessment was exactly like mine. And so we decided that the approach needs to be readdressed through….”
WYDEN: “My time is short. Just like Julie McDonald, you meddled with the science and you inserted yourself into the scientific process, and would just ask Madame Chair that those documents that show what I am saying is accurate and what Mr. Bernhardt is saying is not true … I would ask that these documents be put into the record.”
A follow-up report after Bernhardt’s confirmation in April from the Times’ Coral Davenport noted that the Inspector General had opened a formal investigation into Bernhardt on the matter at the urging of some of those Democrats.:
Eight senators, all Democrats, and four government ethics watchdog groups have requested that the Interior Department’s inspector general open formal investigations into various aspects of Mr. Bernhardt’s conduct. Among the chief complaints have been allegations, revealed by three separate New York Times investigations, that Mr. Bernhardt used his position to advance a policy pushed by his former lobbying client; that he continued working as a lobbyist after filing legal paperwork declaring that he had ceased lobbying; and that he intervened to block the release of a scientific report showing the harmful effects of a chemical pesticide on certain endangered species.
Now that the Inspector General has concluded its investigation and determined in a several-page-long report that Bernhardt did nothing wrong, the Trump Interior Secretary’s team is elated that the fake news attacks from the Times and their Democrat allies on Capitol Hill have fallen apart.
An Interior Department spokesperson said in a release:
The IG’s independent report clearly states that Secretary Bernhardt acted appropriately and ethically and rejects the radical left’s claims of political influence. Additionally, the report validates the Secretary’s common-sense concerns that the FWS’s draft scientific opinion had not undergone sufficient legal review, and that he simply wanted to right the wrongs of the Obama administration’s methodology. In this case, the report served its mission to bring public transparency to the Department’s work and the FWS’s approach to one of its most complex and challenging projects.
What’s more, the Interior Department spokesperson noted that the nonpartisan Inspector General report concluding the investigation demonstrates that the New York Times printed fake news about Bernhardt—and that Democrats used that fake news to attack the Trump appointee falsely.
The Interior Department spokesperson said:
The IG report demonstrates that the accusations Senators Wyden and Hirono, along with Chairman Grijalva and Representatives Huffman and Valazquez are based on a false New York Times article, rather than the facts. By launching this investigation, Congress’s extreme left fueled a false narrative about the Department’s efforts to ensure accurate and legally-sound results, while wasting taxpayer dollars to investigate unsubstantiated claims.
Both New York Times reporters behind this false smear of Secretary Bernhardt have a history of reporting inaccurate information and of engaging in questionable tactics. Lipton has made numerous mistakes over the years, as Breitbart News has documented. Davenport, meanwhile, has been exposed as openly soliciting leaks from people inside the government, emails of hers obtained by Breitbart News and published in 2017 show. Having the Inspector General of a government department disprove the Times‘ reports on this is just the latest setback for an organization with a growing list of significant ethical problems.