One day before his confirmation hearing and following the release of a secret recording and thousands of pages of documents, Interior Secretary Nominee David Bernhardt is facing hard questions about his connection the Big Oil Lobby.
On Thursday morning, David Bernhardt—former oil lobbyist, lawyer, and current acting Secretary of the Interior Department—will face a confirmation hearing for his role as acting Secretary of the Interior. Bernhardt will likely face allegations that he has continued business relations with former clients in the Petroleum and Oil industry, despite his promises to recuse himself from such business. A newly released secret recording and thousands of pages of previously unseen documents clearly outline Bernhardt’s ongoing connections to the oil lobby.
Bernhardt has faced scrutiny since he first arrived on the Trump administration’s transition team. When Trump nominated him to Deputy Secretary of the Interior in April 2017, a group of 150 environmental groups fought Bernhardt’s appointment due to conflicts of interest related to his time as a lawyer for the oil industry. Bernhardt was approved and eventually made acting Secretary of the Interior after former Secretary Ryan Zinke came under investigation by the Interior Department’s Inspector General for ethics violations.
Bernhardt now faces a barrage of accusations regarding his own behavior and relationships with the Oil Industry where he formerly worked as a lobbyist. In 1998, Bernhardt began working for the Washington lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt & Farber. He has also previously worked for the George W. Bush Administration as a political aide to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. After his April 2017 nomination to Deputy Secretary of Interior, Bernhardt promised to recuse himself from working on business related to his former clients and partners.
However, in a secret recording obtained by Reveal, oil executives can be heard discussing David Bernhardt and celebrating the access they currently have to the Trump Administration. The recording took place during a 2017 Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPPA) meeting in Southern California.
“Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America, or IPAA, already had watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines – rules concerning smog, hydraulic fracturing and endangered species protection.
Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of the department.“
Naatz told the audience of oil executives that he knew Bernhardt very well and had “direct access to him,” including conversations regarding federal land access to endangered species. Barry Russell, CEO of the IPAA, also bragged to the crowd about having meetings with former head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt and former Interior Secretary Zinke. “So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great,” Russell stated.
This recording is blatant evidence that the Big Oil Lobby is thrilled with David Bernhardt’s nomination and plans to accelerate their agenda. Reveal notes that since Bernhardt came into the picture, the IPAA has achieved several of their stated goals, including loosening fracking regulations meant to control water pollution, removing rules that limit climate change-causing methane gas releases, abandoning environmental restoration of public land damaged by oil development, and ending protections for migratory birds.
Despite the recording, Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told Reveal that Bernhardt “has had no communication or contact with either Barry Russell or Dan Naatz.” Interior Department attorneys say that Bernhardt is allowed to work on matters related to former clients as long as the issues relate to a large group, not just one single client. Reveal notes that since Bernhardt began work at the department, the IPAA has spent more than $1.3 million lobbying the Interior Department.
The New York Times also reported Tuesday that Bernhardt fought the release of a report on the risks pesticides pose to endangered species. The Times obtained 84,000 pages of Interior Department documents via Freedom of Information Act requests which detail how David Bernhardt directed the department to block a report from the Fish and Wildlife Service that found two pesticides were affecting more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish, and other animals and plants. The Times reports that Bernhardt “had nine meetings or calls on his schedule with Fish and Wildlife staff in October and November 2017, and helped write the letter saying the Interior Department was no longer prepared to release the draft.”
Another report from MapLight and FastCompany shows that Bernhardt, Brownstein Hyatt & Farber employees and the firm’s political action committee contributed more than $225,000 to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee between 2013 and 2018. In total, Brownstein Hyatt & Farber and its employees donated more than $960,000 to current members of the Senate, who will cast the final vote on Bernhardt’s confirmation.
Bernhardt is facing opposition from more than 160 conservation groups who sent a letter to U.S. senators demanding they block his nomination. He is also facing resistance from 29 retired employees with a combined 737 years of service at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The group called on Senators Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin to oppose President Trump’s nominee David Bernhardt as Interior Department secretary. The senators are chairwoman and ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Prison Guard Who Had Sex With Inmate In Front Of 11 Prisoners Is Now Behind Bars
A prison guard in California now finds herself behind bars after she was caught having sexual relations with an inmate – in one case, performing the act in full view of 11 other prisoners.
Former Fresno County correctional officer Tina Gonzalez, 26, was arrested last May following an investigation by the vice unit of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office’s and its internal affairs division.
Gonzalez, who worked as a prison guard from 2016 to 2019, was investigated after authorities were tipped off that an inmate was having sex with a prison guard who had also smuggled in a phone, reports the Fresno Bee.
In one case, Gonzalez even cut a hole in the pants of her uniform to allow easier access during sexual acts with the unnamed prisoner at Fresno County Jail.
Gonzalez was also accused of having sex in full view of 11 inmates, an act that her former boss says “is something only a depraved mind can come up with.”
Assistant Sheriff Steve McComas, who once supervised the unit Gonzalez belonged to, said that in his entire career of 26 years he has witnessed some “pretty disgusting things” but none as bad as Gonzalez’s conduct.
“She took an oath which she betrayed and in doing so endangered her co-workers’ lives,” McComas said.
“But she has shown no remorse,” he added. “She continually calls and has sexually explicit conversations with the inmate in question and boasts about the crimes she carried out.”
Gonzalez pleaded no contest in April to one count of sexual activity by a detention facility employee with a consenting confined adult, one count of possession of drugs or an alcoholic beverage in a jail facility and a misdemeanor count of possession of cellular device with intent to deliver to an inmate.
When she was being sentenced, Judge Michael Idiart decried her acts as “terrible, stupid” and noted that her career had been “ruined.”
“But I also believe that people can redeem themselves and you have the rest of your life to do that,” the judge added. “Good luck.”
Gonzalez is now serving her sentence of seven months in county jail to be followed by two years of probation.
Judge Orders New Trove of Secret Ghislaine Maxwell Files to Be Unsealed This Month
A large trove of secretive files about Ghislaine Maxwell will be unsealed this month, including those shedding light on her relationship with disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein, a judge ruled on Thursday.
The documents will include details on her finances, as well as “funding received from the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation,” according to court records.
The documents are also believed to detail Maxwell’s extensive connections with powerful men such as Prince Andrew of the British royal family, reports the Daily Mail.
It has long been well-known that Epstein and Maxwell associated with both Clinton and former President Donald Trump. Clinton also reportedly met with accused Maxwell for an “intimate” dinner in 2014.
The documents are a part were filed by Epstein accuser and former “sex slave” Virginia Roberts Giuffre in a 2015 civil lawsuit against Maxwell and must be released in mid-July, Judge Loretta Preska ruled in Thursday’s telephone hearing.
Giuffre sued Maxwell for defamation after she was accused by the British socialite of fabricating the sexual abuse allegations against her and Epstein in the lawsuit, which has since been settled.
Last July, a deposition by Giuffre was unsealed. In the deposition, Giuffre went into detail about alleged “constant” orgies that Maxwell and the late pedophile engaged in on Epstein’s private Caribbean island.
“There’s just a blur of so many girls,” Giuffre explained in the 2015 deposition.
“There were blondes, there were brunettes, there were redheads,” she continued. “They were all beautiful girls. I would say the ages ranged between 15 and 21.”
“The island was a place where orgies were a constant thing that took place. And again, it’s impossible to know how many,” Giuffre said, noting that she was “100 percent certain” that Maxwell took part in sexual acts with the girls.
Maxwell is accused of grooming multiple minors to engage in sex acts with Epstein, her ex-boyfriend, by befriending them to ask them about their lives and families while building friendships with the young girls alongside Epstein by taking their victims on social outings or out shopping in the 1990s and 2000s.
Maxwell has been detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, pending trial.
Her five appeals to be released from jail have all been rejected.
Epstein, 66, was found dead in a lone cell in the special housing unit (SHU) of a federal Manhattan prison in New York City while facing a potential prison sentence of up to 45 years on charges of pedophilia and sex trafficking.
2 More Catholic Churches in Canada Burned as Third Mass Gravesite for Indigenous Kids Found
An additional two Catholic churches have been the target of likely arson in Canada as anger continues to grow in the aftermath of the discovery of over 1,000 human remains belonging to Indigenous children.
The news coincides with the discovery of a third site where 182 unmarked graves were located near a discovered near a residential school in British Columbia’s interior.
Early Wednesday morning, firefighters were dispatched to respond to a fire at St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alberta, which was basically gutted by the blaze.
“The fire was already fully involved from the basement when the first fire crews got here,” Morinville’s infrastructure general manager Iain Bushell told CTV News. “They entered the building but there was already collapse occurring on the inside of the church so they backed out and it’s been a defensive or exterior fire fight ever since.”
Police officials have described the blaze as “suspicious.”
Roughly an hour later, a fire was also reported at the Catholic St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, reports CBC.
At least seven churches, nearly all Catholic, have come under apparent arson attacks throughout Canada in recent weeks. Activists and Indigenous advocates have also defaced Catholic churches with bloody red hand and foot prints, while demonstrations have also been staged involving stuffed animal and the slogan “we were children.”
While it remains unclear what precisely caused the fires, they are believed to be linked to the recent discovery of mass graves and unmarked graves containing over 1,000 human remains near Catholic-run residential schools for First Nations children.
The discovery came just few weeks after the grim discovery of 215 Indigenous children’s bodied by the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation in a mass grave at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Colombia.
Also last month, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced its discovery of 751 unmarked graves near the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997 in the area.
Another site with 182 unmarked graves was announced Wednesday after an investigation undertaken by the community of ʔaq’am, near Cranbrook, British Columbia.
About 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly separated from their families and communities and forced to attend the religious schools which were established in the 19th century to assimilate Indigenous children into the Anglo settler-colonial culture of Canada.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has confirmed that large amounts of Indigenous children fled such residential schools or died there, their whereabouts unknown. Former students have also testified to the horrific sexual, mental and physical abuse they suffered while enrolled at the schools. Myriad students died from preventable diseases that rapidly spread in unsanitary conditions, as well as in accidents and fires. Others disappeared when trying to escape. The Commission has denounced the schools for institutionalizing child neglect and for being organs of “cultural genocide.”
Indigenous groups and Canadian politicians are also demanding an apology from the Catholic Church – specifically Pope Francis. Activists have also rejected Canada Day celebrations this year to highlight the anti-Indigenous atrocities that the founding of the North American country entailed.