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Watchdogs Open Ethics Probe on Interior04/24 06:46

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Interior Department's internal watchdog confirmed on 
Tuesday that it is investigating allegations of ethical misconduct by senior 
political appointees at the agency, an announcement that comes a week after the 
disclosure of a similar investigation of newly confirmed Secretary David 

   Both investigations by the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector 
General were prompted by allegations that senior Trump administration 
appointees at the agency had been involved with department decision-making on 
issues involving former employers or lobbying clients.

   "We hope this investigation will answer whether these officials are working 
on behalf of the American people, or on behalf of the interests that used to 
pay their salary," said Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel at the nonprofit, 
nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which asked for the new probe.

   Citing Interior appointment calendars and other documents, the group asked 
the agency's internal investigators to look into whether a half dozen senior 
agency officials were involved in Interior actions dealing with their former 
employers, including a conservative Texas think-tank and the National Rifle 

   For example, the group cited calendar items that it said showed Interior 
assistant secretary Doug Domenech met with his former employer, the Texas 
Public Policy Foundation, on litigation between the think-tank and Interior 
over endangered-species protections.

   Trump administration ethics pledges limit dealings on regulatory matters 
that senior political appointees can have with former employers.

   Spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo of Interior's Office of the Inspector General 
confirmed that another investigation had begun, but declined to identify the 
officials under scrutiny or say how many were now under investigation.

   Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in an email that the 
agency's ethics office had "reviewed each matter, and provided materials to the 
chief of staff, who has taken appropriate actions."

   She declined to elaborate on what actions were taken. 

   Democratic senators had sought the earlier-announced internal investigation 
of Bernhardt. Their complaint centered on allegations Bernhardt was involved in 
Interior Department deliberations with former lobbying clients, including a 
politically influential California water agency. 


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