04/13/2019 07:12 AM EDT
The National Archives and Records Administration gave the Interior Department until late April to address Democrats’ allegations that newly confirmed Secretary David Bernhardt may have been destroying his official calendars, according to a letter POLITICO obtained Friday.
The letter adds new pressure to a department that is facing investigations by House Democrats who question whether Bernhardt has violated federal record-keeping laws. Bernhardt’s existing daily schedule shows that the former fossil fuel and agriculture lobbyist has met with representatives of former clients who stood to gain from Interior’s decisions, but the department has released few details about his activities during about one-third of his days in office.
House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) requested the NARA probe after Bernhardt acknowledged he does not keep a daily calendar and failed to disclose meetings with industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute.
“This record raises questions about whether all of the Acting Secretary’s meetings are being captured and preserved in accordance with DOI’s record schedules,” Cummings wrote in a previously undisclosed March 19 letter to NARA.
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In a letter to Cummings dated April 1, NARA Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer wrote that he had given Interior 30 days to respond to questions about “the alleged unauthorized disposition of Acting Secretary Bernhardt’s calendar records.”
Interior maintained in a letter to NARA on March 27 that it “is and at all times has been fully compliant with federal records laws.” NARA did not respond to questions about whether that put an end to its investigation.
The Senate confirmed Bernhardt as Interior secretary by a 56-41 vote Thursday, overriding Democrats’ questions about his ethics.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican, has accused Democrats of launching a “partisan” investigation of Interior’s record-keeping practices.
Interior earlier this month quietly released hundreds of daily reports that Bernhardt aides produced to list his meetings for most of his days as a top department official. Those schedules — which Interior calls “cards” — offer far greater detail than its previously released calendars for Bernhardt.
They reveal that Bernhardt, who was then deputy secretary, gave the keynote address last year at a gathering of oil and gas executives at the Trump International Hotel and was scheduled to dine with the board of oil company BP, among other meetings that had not been previously disclosed. Interior says he didn’t make it to the BP dinner.
But the picture is incomplete — details about whom Bernhardt met with or what he was working on are still missing for 133 of the 374 work days between when he started as deputy secretary in August 2017 and this past Jan. 31, the last day for which the daily cards are available. An analysis by the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group critical of the Trump administration’s policies, could not turn up such details for those days in either the newly released cards or the official calendar Interior have been made public.
“It shows whatever they were talking about in being transparent is a joke,” center spokesperson Aaron Weiss said. “There’s no transparency if you’re still holding at least 15 work weeks’ worth of when you were in the office.”
Interior said that on the days without scheduling cards “the cards simply were not made.”