Deputy Interior Secretary May Have Violated Ethics Agreement

It is being reported that Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt may have violated an ethics agreement he signed when he joined the Trump administration, adding yet another controversy for a department that has been plagued by them.

According to records, Bernhardt — in the fall of 2017 — met with a lobbyist who works for MGM Resorts. This is a casino his former firm represents. Some believe that the meeting violates an agreement Bernhardt signed in May of that year, which prohibited him from having any dealings with his former company. He previously worked for Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Schreck, which is a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm.

In October of 2017, Bernhardt met with Gale Norton, who previously was the interior secretary for President George W. Bush and who today is a registered lobbyist for a company called Norton Regulatory Strategies that does work for MGM Resorts, which is her only client.

Bernhardt and Norton insist that their meeting was just social, and that no business was discussed. Also at this meeting was Assistant Secretary of Insular Areas Doug Domenech and Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason.

Not only does Norton perform work only for MGM Resorts, she currently works on only one issue for them: preventing a partnership between two Native American tribes in Connecticut who want to open a casino together, which would potentially be a competitor of MGM. The proposed casino would not be on a reservation, and would therefore need the approval of the Interior Department.

From at least March of last year, Brownstein Hyatt has represented MGM on the issue, which is while Bernhardt still worked for the company prior to joining the Interior Department.

So far, the lobbying effort against the casino has been successful, as the Interior Department had held up approval for the casino. In response to this, the Native American tribes have filed a lawsuit in federal court, in an effort to force the department to decide on their application.