By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Interior Department’s inspector general’s office confirmed Tuesday it is investigating whether six high-level agency officials violated federal ethics rules by interacting with former employers or clients while working on official business.
The inspector general, an independent office that acts as the department’s watchdog, opened the investigation just days after confirming the launch of an investigation into the complaints about newly confirmed secretary David Bernhardt.
This latest investigation is in response to a complaint from the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center (CLC).
“I can confirm … we have opened an investigation and we are considering all the material submitted (by the center),” IG office spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said by email.
Last week, IG’s office confirmed it was investigating Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, after being contacted by a “wide variety of whistleblowers alleging various potential conflicts of interest and other violations” while he was deputy secretary of the department.
The CLC sent a letter to the inspector general’s office in February alleging that the six Interior Department officials, all political appointees in the Trump administration, had violated an ethics commitment under which political appointees cannot engage with former employers. or clients for two years after their appointment. .
“Several political appointees in the Interior appear to have violated these provisions, which are specifically designed to prevent public officials from using their positions to favor former employers or lobby clients,” the CLC said in the letter posted on its website.
The group alleged that Doug Domenech, currently undersecretary for island and international affairs, violated the pledge in 2017 by participating in back-to-back meetings with his former employer, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, to discuss his litigation against the Department of the Interior. for example.
He also said that former National Rifle Association lobbyist Benjamin Cassidy worked on issues that were a previous focus of the NRA as the department’s senior deputy director for intergovernmental and external affairs.
The cases added to a “disturbing pattern of misconduct” that warranted an investigation, the CLC said in its letter.
The Interior Department said it had consulted with ethics officials after receiving complaints.
“Ethics reviewed each issue and provided materials to the chief of staff, who took appropriate action. All of these materials were turned over to the inspector general,” department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in an emailed statement.
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