The Department of Interior Just About Served Up the Trump Administration's Whole Thing in a Nutshell

Jack Holmes
·5-min read
Photo credit: Alex Wong - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alex Wong - Getty Images

From Esquire

It's been a big day for the president and his people in terms of telling us what they're all about. He blurted out his gambit to steal the election, suggesting that the courts will stop states from counting ballots after November 3, even if it means throwing out perfectly good votes. His apparatchiks on the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, began to lay the groundwork for their part of this Bush v. Gore sequel earlier in the week, and they've now got another fellow traveler in Amy Coney Barrett, whom the president and his allies have expressly said has been installed as a vote on election cases. This all pairs well with the Republican Party's generalized and sprawling legal assault on the right to vote.

The president whined and moaned about Big Tech, not because they are monopolies who distort markets and harm smaller firms and consumers, but because they refuse to Trend his wannabe October Surprise: "It’s the biggest, and most credible, story anywhere in the world," he said, convincingly. "Fake Trending!!!" His allies in the legislature echoed this sad and petty approach, as Ron Johnson demanded consequences for a random Twitter account that falsely accused him of strangling their dog, Buttons, and Marsha Blackburn seemed to demand the firing of a Google engineer who said mean things about her. Free speech! Cancel culture! We're full of shit! Ted Cruz at least pressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey with a line of questioning about whether the big platforms impact elections, though that was also just a way to moan about Hunter Biden's laptop. Millions of people are currently unemployed.

Photo credit: Noam Galai - Getty Images
Photo credit: Noam Galai - Getty Images

And then there's the very presidential administration. We are close to wrapping up four years' worth of conflicts-of-interest, cronyism, rank ineptitude, and lies out of the Executive Branch, an enterprise that even by the beginning of last year had fully taken shape as The Great American Heist. Since then, we've learned more about how the president is paying himself out of the national coffers, a nice addition to the money he's been taking through his hotels from corporate executives and lobbyists and foreign actors, some of whom have business before his government. Sounds pretty swampy to the simple ears of those of us who are not Business-Americans, a class which, thanks to the New York Times' persistent reporting on the president's tax returns, apparently has the wherewithal to simply not pay back $287 million in debt after faceplanting on the project for which the loans were acquired. Nice work if you can get it. Somewhere in here is where his fans will tell you he's not taking the Presidential Salary, a sum he's made back many times over by forcing the Secret Service to rent golf carts.

Whoops! Got a bit off-track there. Back to his administration, and his Department of the Interior, which got into a public spat with an Obama-era employee on Twitter that had all the hallmarks of Trumpian governance. It was...

1) totally unprofessional;

2) petty and personal;

3) shamelessly dishonest;

4) a disgraceful use of taxpayer dollars.

It all kicked off with a campaign ad from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who is not supposed to campaign in his official capacity. It is at the very least improper, and at the most is this administration's latest violation of the Hatch Act. You can see the details on the Interior Department's own Ethics page. Anyway, here it is:

This led Tim Fullerton, a former Interior employee under Obama, to respond thusly:

I ran the @interior digital team during President Obama’s re-election in 2012. I would have been fired for doing this.

This is a propaganda video created with your tax dollars meant to bolster the President’s chances of being re-elected. This is way outside the lines.

Which led a current Interior employee, the press secretary, to respond...thusly.

Our tweets are approved by career ethics attorneys and thankfully no longer overseen by you. @Interior increased the number ethics staff by 250% to remove the rotten stench from the blatant failure of the prior administration to invest in the ethics program.

This is a wild official communication from a federal agency, taking time out to attack an individual citizen using terms like "rotten stench." Regardless, it's good they beefed up the ethics staff considering the department's recent track record. That's where the shameless part of the Official Communication from This Executive Department comes in.

The first Interior Secretary under Trump, Ryan Zinke, was run out of town amid multiple concurrent ethics investigations into his conduct in office. His successor, Mr. Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for the very oil and gas firms petitioning the department he now leads for permission to drill on public lands. He brought so many conflicts-of-interest into office when he joined the department as Zinke's number two that he had to carry around a card listing them all in order to keep track. And despite some early nods towards conservation, he has subsequently served as a reliable friend to these and other industrial interests—including agriculture—in office. Any guesses on where he'll go work when he leaves? But do tell about all the ethics officials you hired to take care of that stench.

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