The soap opera that is the Interior Department continues to churn out drama. The latest bit of drama concerns Todd Wynn, the Director of the Interior Department’s Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, who is leaving the federal agency after two years.
The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint in February naming Wynn and five other Interior political appointees. The complaint led to an investigation by the Interior’s Inspector General’s office. Wynn allegedly contacted past employers which violates his ethics agreement. He worked for Koch-supported groups and energy interests before the Interior Department, including the Cascade Policy Institute, which is part of Koch-supported State Policy Network. While working at the Cascade Policy Institute, Wynn co-produced a film that argues against climate change legislation. In the film he claimed, “global warming could be a net benefit for the planet.”
Wynn has long been a climate change denier. While appearing on Populations TV he said, “It's absolutely ridiculous to say that they know that human activity is the major part of that [climate change].” In a 2009 piece for the Oregon Catalyst, Wynn wrote that “the earth is cooling.”
That Wynn remained in contact with former employees does not come as a surprise for some. The Energy and Policy Institute reported after his appointment in 2017 that his “history working with polluting industries and right-wing groups makes him a natural conduit between those groups and DOI.”
Wynn’s reasons for leaving the Interior are not known but he “joins the list of other former Interior appointees leaving while under investigation for ethical misconduct,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. O’Neill said that “political swamp monsters like Wynn may be departing Interior, the public deserves any and all investigations into these corrupt officials be completed.” He added that members of Trump’s cabinet who leave “shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card for people who have done untold damage to public lands, government accountability efforts, and our sacred outdoor heritage.”
Will his replacement be any better?
Timothy Williams is Wynn’s deputy and he was named in the complaint by the Campaign Legal Center. Williams has worked for Koch-supported Americans for Prosperity as a field director and as the deputy state director for Nevada on Trump’s presidential campaign.
He met in June 2017 with Americans for Prosperity. The White House’s ethics pledge bans political appointees like Williams from meeting with previous employees about official matters for two years after their appointment. The Interior’s Inspector General office opened an investigation into Williams based on those allegations. Records obtained by the Pacific Standard show that Williams and his colleagues at the Interior discussed the Interior’s plans to “rein in” Bears Ears National Monument, which the Trump administration shrunk in December 2017.
Last February, Wynn was one of six Interior officials named in a complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center. The private watchdog group asked Interior's Office of Inspector General to look into Wynn's alleged contacts with prior employers.
Wynn's deputy, Timothy Williams, was named in the same complaint. The OIG said in April that an "investigation has been opened" in response (E&E News PM, April 23)
"The Department takes ethics issues seriously," Interior's then-spokesperson Faith Vander Voort said in a statement. "The Office of the Secretary immediately consulted with the Department Ethics Office after receiving the subject complaints. Ethics reviewed each matter, and provided materials to the Chief of Staff, who has taken appropriate actions."