WASHINGTON — The inspector basic for the Inside Division stated on Thursday it had discovered no proof that the previous secretary, David Bernhardt, violated federal ethics or conflict-of-interest guidelines when the division made choices that affected considered one of his former shoppers, a California water district.
The Inside Division beneath Mr. Bernhardt made choices that benefited Westlands Water District, which represents California farmers, together with a deal to grant federal water rights in perpetuity to a big agricultural district. Earlier than becoming a member of the Trump administration, Mr. Bernhardt spent 10 years because the group’s chief lobbyist.
In a report issued Thursday, investigators stated proof didn’t assist allegations that Mr. Bernhardt withheld info, labored on points that introduced a battle, or sought to assist his former shopper.
“We additionally recognized no proof displaying that Mr. Bernhardt’s actions had been in any other case illegal or improper,” the report discovered. To the extent that Mr. Bernhardt gave “instructions, steerage or recommendation” relating to the California water choices, “his actions concerned coverage choices that had been inside Mr. Bernhardt’s official discretion,” it stated.
Mr. Bernhardt declined to take part in interviews with investigators, the report stated.
Danny Onoranto, an legal professional representing Mr. Bernhardt, stated in an announcement that the inspector basic’s report “fully vindicates” the previous secretary.
“The report confirms that the allegations in opposition to Secretary Bernhardt had been meritless and that he totally complied with all his moral and authorized obligations from Day Certainly one of his time period of public service,” Mr. Onoranto stated.
Mr. Bernhardt deregistered as a lobbyist for Westlands in November 2016 and joined the Trump administration as deputy secretary of Inside in August 2017 earlier than turning into secretary two years later.
In Might, the Inside Division’s inspector basic additionally cleared Mr. Bernhardt of a associated accusations that he had violated lobbying legal guidelines in the identical case.
Cole Rojewski, who served as chief of employees on the Inside Division within the Trump administration, stated the reviews confirmed that the accusations in opposition to Mr. Bernhardt had been “baseless” and unsubstantiated.
“David Bernhardt is without doubt one of the most law-abiding, ethically-sound individuals I do know, and these continued reviews present he has at all times adopted the letter of the regulation,” Mr. Rojewski stated in an announcement. “Those that spent years attacking his character owe him an apology.”
Mr. Bernhardt’s critics stated they weren’t shocked and in addition not glad with the findings, and maintained that the previous secretary was cleared on technical factors. The investigation discovered that as a result of Mr. Bernhardt intervened on a number of water districts and never simply Westlands, his actions didn’t violate guidelines that stop federal appointees from engaged on “explicit” issues involving former employers or shoppers.
“He’s a sensible lawyer,” stated Consultant Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who has requested federal investigations of Mr. Bernhardt. “He is aware of find out how to interact the place he has a patina of authorized cowl and find out how to maintain himself out of bother. It doesn’t imply that there’s not a foul odor to his involvement in these points that so straight benefited his former shopper.”
In 2021 a federal choose declined to validate the water deal. Representatives for Westlands Water District couldn’t be reached for remark, however the group has up to now disputed allegations that it obtained particular remedy.
“The suggestion that the everlasting nature of the proposed Westlands reimbursement contract makes it an ‘unusually whole lot’ is solely false,” the district wrote in a reality sheet concerning the deal in 2020.