Trump pick for top Interior lawyer stalled after perjury allegations
Former Koch advisor Daniel Jorjani has dismal track record leading department’s ethics, transparency programs
In August, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed a secretarial order consolidating the department’s ethics program under acting Solicitor Daniel Jorjani, a longtime Koch advisor. While Jorjani has served as the department’s top lawyer in an acting capacity, his nomination remains stalled in the Senate amid allegations he committed perjury during his confirmation hearing. During his tenure, Jorjani has served as a personal protector for Secretaries Ryan Zinke and Bernhardt, enabling the ethical scandals that have rocked the top levels of the Interior Department.
While the Senate is not actively considering Jorjani’s nomination, he continues to serve as the Interior Department’s acting Solicitor. Here are the key things you should know about his track record during the Trump administration.
Jorjani has overseen Interior’s FOIA program, which is under investigation for allowing political appointees to delay and withhold information from the public
While the Interior Department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program has traditionally been managed by career staff, Secretary Zinke issued a secretarial order placing Jorjani in charge of overseeing all document requests. Under Jorjani, the department implemented a supplemental “awareness review” process, allowing political appointees to review, then withhold and delay, the release of documents to the public. That policy is currently under investigation and has led lawmakers from both parties, including Senators Grassley and Cornyn, to raise concerns. Interior’s FOIA problems are widespread, and include Secretary Bernhardt, who has routinely hidden and altered calendar entries to keep his schedule shielded from the public.
Jorjani demonstrated an apparent lack of candor in statements made to Congress during his confirmation hearings
During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Jorjani was asked about DOI’s process for complying with FOIA, as well as his involvement in reviewing records for release under the law. In response, he said, “I myself don’t review FOIAs or make determinations.” However, internal documents show Jorjani has routinely been involved in reviewing document releases and that he requested a weekly meeting to discuss documents that were scheduled to be released to the public. Those statements led Senator Ron Wyden to place a hold on his nomination and ask the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Division to investigate whether Mr. Jorjani knowingly made statements to Congress that misled the Senate about “the nature and scope of political-level interference into FOIA processing and decisions at the Department [of the Interior].”
Consolidating Interior’s ethics program under Jorjani will only worsen the department’s ethics crisis
While reorganizing the department’s ethics program is not necessarily a bad idea, placing the program squarely in the hands of acting Solicitor Jorjani is a cynical attempt to control and suppress ethics investigations into the department’s leadership. Jorjani famously wrote an email to colleagues claiming, “at the end of the day, our job is to protect the Secretary.” In the same email, Jorjani bragged that he had “successfully protected” Interior political appointees who had undergone travel investigations by the department’s Inspector General.
As acting Solicitor, Jorjani has delivered policy victories for extractive industries
During his tenure as acting Solicitor, Jorjani has issued numerous controversial legal opinions, including changing a longstanding interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to shield oil and gas companies from liability after spills, moving forward with copper-sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and paving the way for a pipeline that would drain precious water from aquifers beneath Mojave Trails National Monument in California.
After his confirmation hearing, Senator Joe Manchin, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, raised concerns about Jorjani’s legal opinions, stating “It concerns me Mr. Jorjani has spent the past two years he served as acting solicitor overturning prior interpretations of our public lands laws in a manner that is out of step with the congressional intent.”
Americans deserve a government that is transparent and accountable. Acting Solicitor Jorjani’s record shows he believes the opposite. After blocking the public from accessing legally-available documents and misleading Congress, it’s beyond time for a change.