The Interior Department's inspector general opened an investigation into alleged ethics violations by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo
April 15 (UPI) -- The Interior Department's inspector general opened an investigation into newly confirmed Secretary David Bernhardt.
The investigation stems from ethics complaints against Bernhardt by eight Democratic senators and four government ethics watchdog groups that have requested a formal investigations into various allegations of misconduct involving his role as a former fossil oil lobbyist, The New York Times reported.
Deputy inspector general of the Interior Department, Mary L. Kendall, wrote in a letter Monday that she had received seven complaints from "a wide assortment of complainants alleging various conflicts of interest and other violations" by Bernhardt and that she had "opened an investigation to address them.
Among the complaints were allegations that Bernhardt continued lobbying after filing legal paperwork declaring he had stopped working as a lobbyist, used his position in the Trump administration to advance a policy supported by his lobbying client and intervened to block the release of a report detailing harmful effects of a chemical pesticide on some endangered species.
Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 56-41 last week to replace Ryan Zinke, who resigned in January while facing his own ethics investigations.
"We now have an interior secretary who has been on the job for one full business day and is already under investigation," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., one of the senators to make a complaint against Bernhardt. "With Bernhardt's track record and the number of allegations against him, it's no surprise. At least now, the American people will finally get the answers they deserve."
Bernhardt has repeatedly denied the allegations and Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told CNN he is in "complete compliance with his ethics agreement and all applicable laws, rules and regulations."
She added that the Interior Department's Ethics Office has already conducted a review of many of the allegations against Bernhardt.
"Secretary Bernhardt is hopeful the Inspector General will expeditiously complete a review of the facts associated with the questions raided by Democratic members of Congress and D.C. political organizations. said Vander Voort.