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The interior ministry’s oversight agency found documents detained during the secretary’s confirmation



Documents issued by the Freedom of Information Act to supervisory groups questioning whether Bernhardt is in compliance with ethical requirements and declines as deputy secretary, the office he held at the time. or not. A court asked the department to review the documents.

Bernhardt previously led a lobbying office that worked for fossil fuel and mining companies – companies that rent land and are regulated by the Ministry of the Interior. He submitted to the ethics officials a three-page long list of rejecting companies for which he would not work in his first year at the Interior.

Interior Department Inspector Mark Lee Greenblatt wrote in a report on Tuesday that a senior lawyer from the department met with FOIA officials in February 201
9 and instructed them to “take all documents related to this. Bernhardt – sent to him, sent from him or referred to him – out of court-ordered document production in connection with the FOIA lawsuit. ”

The meeting that took place the same month Bernhardt was nominated to be promoted to the position of secretary, the report said.

Later that month, government lawyers told the court that a month-long government shutdown and the personnel change delayed their document review. The Western Values ​​project, which has been sued for the filing, noted that the Interior Department’s Work on oil and gas licenses continued during downtime.

A lawyer told the inspector general that the order to withhold the documents “is because Bernhardt is waiting for his confirmation hearing” and that it “will be kept until after Bernhardt confirms it.”

FOIA’s top interior lawyer at the time told investigators he believed the direction “was not a direction that ‘stopped and did not create anything’ so much. ‘Review these documents carefully and make the right decision about what to do with them, based on that careful consideration.’ ”

The Inspector General also does not conclude whether the department has correctly followed the court order.

In response to the report, Interior Department Chief of Staff Todd Willens noted that the Justice Department agrees that the Home Office is obeying the court order. He noted that the detained documents did not include “an email, document or contact information from Minister Bernhardt.”

Most of the 253 Bernhardt-related pages were released seven months after his confirmation, the report said.

During the time the documents were detained, CNN reported that the ministry developed but did not publish practices that allowed political leaders to consider before releasing documents related to political appointees. . The agency later released a memorandum outlining this activity.

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