Why Corruption Will Continue In the Interior Department

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

It is not unexpected. With the confirmation of Daniel Jorjani as the Department of Interior's Solicitor General, the agencies blatant and ongoing corruption will not stop.

The Interior Department under President Trump is full of corruption. With Daniel Jorjani as the federal agency’s new Solicitor General, it will likely become more corrupt.

The Senate recently confirmed Jorjani by a narrow margin of 51-43. He may have perjured himself when he testified under oath about his role in politicizing public record requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which the Interior’s Inspector General is investigating.

After Jorjani’s nomination, Senator Ron Wyden called for an investigation into his answers to questions by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May. “Bottom line, I believe Mr. Jorjani lied to the committee and perjured himself,” said Wyden. 

The political review practice of the Interior “appears to be contributing to an extensive public records backlog by allowing political appointees to review, delay, and potentially withhold public documents from release,” according to the Western Values Project.

Two lawmakers received letters from the Interior’s Inspector General that they are reviewing the involvement of the agency’s officials in designing a public records review process that allows political appointees to both review and withhold documents.

“Confirming Jorjani as Interior Solicitor confirms that ethics are optional in the Trump administration, that industry interests come before the public interest, and that laws are viewed as suggested guidelines,” said Lena Moffitt, senior director of Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, in a statement. 

Jorjani’s conflicts of interest and bad decisions

Jorjani, a former international finance expert who worked in the George W. Bush administration, worked as a “key Koch employee,” according to the Western Values Project’s website Department of Influence. As a Koch employee, he worked with two organizations funded by Charles and David Koch: a Program Officer of Research at the Charles Koch Foundation and the Director of Research for the Charles Koch Institute in 2011. From 2012 on he worked for the Freedom Partners, a conservative policy group funded by the Koch brothers. 

As Acting Solicitor in December 2017, Jorjani issued a legal opinion that reinterpreted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) which leaves industries unpunished for accidentally killing birds. The legal opinion “declare[d] that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies only to purposeful actions that kill migratory birds, and not to energy companies and other businesses that kill birds incidentally.” An analysis revealed that industry may have been involved or was aware that the new opinion was coming. 

In 2017, Jorjani issued a decision reversing an Interior Department rule and renewed copper and nickel mining leases for the Chilean Mining company, Twin Metals, on the border of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the most visited wilderness area in the U.S. Jorjani met with both Antofagasta, the parent company of Twin Metals, and a lobbying from that represented Twin Metals before he issued the decision favoring the company.

Covering up corruption

It is clear from Jorjani’s past actions that he is “a yes-man to Secretary Bernhardt’s reckless public lands policies and practices, and he is clearly willing to go to great lengths to cover up corruption,” as Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill said. That should not come as a surprise to any astute observer of the Trump administration. Corruption is part and parcel to this administration. The only thing that can stop the corruption is either impeaching Trump or voting him out of office.