House committee refers former Trump Home Secretary David Bernhardt for criminal prosecution

The House Natural Resources Committee filed its first-ever criminal complaint with the Justice Department on Wednesday, demanding that Mike Ingram, an Arizona real estate developer and campaign donor to Donald Trump, investigate whether Trump bribed public officials during his tenure as president. announced. Including then Deputy Home Secretary David Bernhardt.

Since 2019, the House committee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in October 2017 in Benson, Ariz. This decision was reversed again in July 2021, after Joe Biden took office as president.

Home Secretary David Bernhardt and President Donald Trump at the White House on July 8, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

According to a committee report in August 2017, Steve Spangle, then the FWS field supervisor, received a phone call from an attorney from the Department of the Interior’s Attorney’s Office asking Spangle to reverse the decision, which should have been consulted by the Army Corps of Engineers. with FWS before reinstating the then-suspended Clean Water Act permit for Villages in Vigneto. The report states that the phone call “Dep. Singing. Bernhardt” after meeting with Ingram. Bernhardt continued to serve as secretary of the interior from 2019 to 2021.

“Evidence strongly suggests that the decision was the result of quid pro quo between Vigneto developer Michael Ingram and senior officials in the Trump administration, potentially including then-DOI Assistant Secretary David Bernhardt,” the committee said in its report.

Raúl Grijalva, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, D. -Ariz., said on Wednesday.

Democrat Raul Grijalva, turquoise and bolo tie, speaks at a House Natural Resources Committee session.

Raúl Grijalva, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee of the House of Representatives, at a hearing in D-Ariz., 2020. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via Reuters)

According to the committee, Vigneto development is in an ecologically sensitive area. “The land on which Vigneto will be developed is located approximately three miles from the San Pedro River, the last major free-flowing river in the Southwest desert,” the committee’s report states. The surrounding ecosystem is a fragile but critically important habitat for many unique wildlife species and is considered a critical corridor for millions of migratory songbirds.”

As a result, the Corps was legally required to consult with the FWS under the Endangered Species Act, but Trump withdrew his request for consultation after he took office. The committee also documents that Ingram and a dozen other donors in Arizona, some of whom have commercial ties to Ingram, donated a total of $241,600 in 2017 to the Republican National Committee, Donald Trump for President, and state GOP committees.

Representative Katie Porter of D-Calif, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, released a statement openly alleging corruption in the Trump administration.

“Exchanging money for a given government action is the most blatant form of corruption there is, and Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—share an understanding that this type of response is eroding our democracy,” Porter said. Said. “In this case, our oversight has revealed that the Trump administration has overruled the Home Office’s local career professionals and reversed a longstanding position on environmental review requirements, just weeks after politically connected donors contributed nearly a quarter of a million dollars. This pattern of relevant facts requires, at a minimum, additional fact finding, so the American public has answers as to whether the Trump administration is acting in the public interest or in the best bidder’s interests.”

Representative Katie Porter at a hearing.

Representative Katie Porter, D-Calif., chair of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Surveillance and Investigations Subcommittee, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Bernhardt did not respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment prior to publication, nor was Trump’s spokesperson. Ingram’s real estate firm, El Dorado Holdings, sent a statement by Washington DC attorney Lanny Davis, famous for his many high-profile political clients.

“The referral sent by Chairman Grijalva and Subcommittee Chairman Porter is false, misleading, unfair, and reminds me of McCarthyism’s use of implication as a proxy for truth,” Davis said. “El Dorado attended multiple meetings with this Committee, acted in full transparency and cooperated fully without subpoenas. Despite this, we have been deprived of the basic and essential opportunity to refute the allegations in this application, and even the chance to speak to the president. Unfortunately, the American public has become numb and accustomed to political attacks that have little to do with reality, and when that happens, there has to be two-sided outrage. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Democratic or Republican committee or a Democratic or Republican administration. I intend to spend every minute I can visit the Democratic and Republican members of this Committee convincing them that what has been done by the Chairman and the Chairman of the Subcommittee is unfair and that he has absolutely failed to report the fact that neither Mr. Ingram nor El Dorado had done anything wrong. . I still believe that the final decision is based on law and facts.”

After this story was published, Davis sent an additional statement, in part stating: “The authors the Committee referred to the DOJ were appropriately misled when they did not cite an independent review by local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to address the blame. . Permission for the Vigneto project remains due to political influence.” Davis argues that internal FWS review exempts Ingram from improperly influencing FWS employees.

Environmental advocacy groups critical of DOI’s track record during the Trump era saw the referral as justification.

“We said from the beginning that David Bernhardt was too uncompromising and corrupt to be a Cabinet secretary,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. “This is straight-up damned proof of pay-per-game goodness. Mike Ingram had a secret meeting with David Bernhardt early in the Trump administration. Then, the day Bernhardt ousted career officials under him, cash flowed into the Trump campaign.

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