Group Requests Ethics Inquiry Into Interior Officials

(Bloomberg) -- Six senior Interior Department officials violated President Donald Trump’s ethics pledge by dealing with former employers and clients while in office, according to a complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center.

The complaint names three officials who participated in meetings with organizations they worked for or represented before joining the government. Under rules issued by Trump in January 2017, administration appointees are barred from participating for two years in particular matters with former employers or clients.

Among the officials named in the complaint are Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech, Senior Deputy for Intergovernmental and External Affairs Benjamin Cassidy, and Vincent DeVito, former counselor to the secretary for energy policy who now works for Cox Oil Offshore LLC. The complaint alleges that all six officials participated in meetings with groups they worked for within two years of their appointments.

The complaint also names three other officials that it says had dealings with former employees within two years of joining Interior. Timothy Williams, deputy director of the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs took part in a video conference with his former employer, Americans for Prosperity, to discuss shared priorities. Todd Wynn, the office’s director, communicated with a policy consultant for his former employer, the Council of State Governments. He served on the board of trustees of the Council’s 21st Century Foundation.

Under federal ethics rules, former employers include organizations for whom an appointee has served as a trustee. Lori Mashburn, Interior’s White House liaison, attended multiple meetings with personnel from the Heritage Foundation, where she used to work.

The complaint asks Mary Kendall, the inspector general of Interior, to investigate the allegations against the six officials.

The Interior Department and the five current officials named didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

DeVito is alleged to have met with a former client four months after joining the federal government to discuss an offshore wind project. According to his spokeswoman, he checked with ethics officials and received approval to meet with the former client, a public utility holding company based in Springfield, Massachusetts, called Eversource Energy. DeVito didn’t attend the meeting, but it remained on his calendar, the spokeswoman said.

Embattled Agency

The embattled agency has faced other complaints for unethical behavior. Trump’s first pick to lead the agency, Ryan Zinke, faced multiple inquiries when he resigned his position. Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist who Trump has formally nominated to replace Zinke, has been criticized for his past work for businesses before joining the government.

The complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that favors greater restrictions on money in politics, alleges that Domenech had meetings with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank where he worked until January 2017, about lawsuits the group had filed against the Interior Department. Domenech’s calendar shows the meetings took place in April 2017, the complaint says, adding that under federal ethics rules, litigation is a particular matter.

Cassidy, a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, had multiple contacts with his former employer to discuss a variety of issues, including rules for shooting on federal lands and conservation issues.

Zinke, the former Interior head, left the agency in January amid mounting federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest. Bernhardt, who is awaiting his Senate confirmation hearing, has been criticized by Democrats in Congress and environmental groups for his past work as a lawyer and lobbyist representing oil companies and land developers with interests before the Interior Department.

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