Reps Huffman & Grijalva Initiate New Inquiry on Secretary Bernhardt’s Ties with Westlands Water

By on April 12, 2019

Water, Oceans, & Wildlife Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jared Huffman (D-2nd District-San Rafael), along with Natural Resources Committee Chair Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-3rd District-Tucson, AZ) initiated a new inquiry last Friday regarding David Bernhardt, the current Deputy Secretary and Acting Secretary of the Interior and his role with California’s powerful Westlands Water District (WWD), a former client of Bernhardt’s. At issue are potentials conflicts between Bernhardt’s work as a lobbyist and lawyer for the irrigation district and his current position as a top official in the Trump administration. The inquiry launched by Reps. Huffman and Grijalva seeks documents which have triggered serious questions that have been raised in filings with the Inspector General and the Office of Government Ethics.

Bernhardt is being considered for a top position in Trump administration, that of interior secretary. The Senate Energy Committee voted 14-6 late last week to send Bernhardt’s nomination to the full Senate for the required confirmation vote. President Trump nominated Bernhardt as deputy interior secretary.

As has been widely reported, Bernhardt filed legal notice with the federal government officially ending his status as a lobbyist in Nov. 2016. But an invoice, dated March 2017, and other documents appear to indicate that Bernhardt was still working with the Westlands Water District as late as April 2017.

According to the New York Times, Faith Vander Voort, a spokesperson for Bernhardt, said in an email that the invoice was mislabeled and that, “David Bernhardt did not engage in regulated lobbying activities for Westlands Water District from the date he de-registered forward,” she wrote. “Mr. Bernhardt engaged in various legal services that supported the senior employees and Directors of the Board of Westlands Water District, who are public officials, operating in their official capacity. These efforts do not constitute regulated lobbying activity.”

But the filing by Reps. Huffman and Grijalva calls into question Bernhardt’s “… potential conflicts between his [Bernhardt’s] work as a top official at the Department of the Interior (DOI) and his previous work as a lobbyist and lawyer with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck representing the Westlands Water District.  These potential conflicts have been described in national news reports and in numerous complaints filed with the Inspector General and Office of Government Ethics. It is essential that the Congress and the American people have a full and complete record of the relationship between Mr. Bernhardt and Westlands so these questions can be answered, and potential conflicts of interest can be addressed.”

Reps. Huffman and Grijalva’s letter to WWD re quests all documents associated with Bernhardt and his work relating to the former water district client. This request includes Bernhardt’s work to weaken the Endangered Species Act protections and Bernhardt’s pursuit of funding for the raising of Shasta Dam over the objections of the State of California.