September 24, 2019

Wyden Floor Remarks on the Nomination of Daniel Jorjani as Interior Solicitor General

As Prepared for Delivery

Mr. President, there’s a job opening at the Interior Department, and that can mean only one thing. Another Trump nominee who’s already under investigation for misconduct – even before his official first day on the job. This time it’s Daniel Jorjani, a long-serving Trump Interior official who’s up for a powerful role as the department’s Solicitor General. Already under investigation by the department’s Inspector General. Already on a fast-track to the Interior Department corruption hall of fame, right there with Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt.

It probably doesn’t take an IG investigation to uncover that I’ll be a no on Mr. Jorjani’s nomination, and I’ll explain why in just a moment.

First, let me start out with an honest assessment of what Donald Trump’s appointees have done at the Interior Department.

Under this president, it is awfully difficult for one agency’s corruption to stand out above the rest. Trump officials at the Interior Department manage to do it again and again.

Mr. Jorjani – who is a former Koch Industries advisor – is a key example of that behavior.

The office of the Interior Solicitor General is in charge of legal issues and ethics for the department. It’s a big team with a lot of power. Mr. Jorjani has been a key member of the Solicitor General’s office.

Mr. Jorjani’s own words show that he doesn’t believe it’s his job at Interior to protect public lands and uphold an ethical standard.

In 2017 he wrote to agency colleagues that, “our job is to protect the Secretary.” His words, not mine. And he was talking about Ryan Zinke, who brought on a Category 5 ethical hurricane during his brief time as Interior Secretary.

In the same email, he boasted about having impeded Inspector General investigations into the misuse of taxpayer funds for travel. And it wasn’t just talk – the record shows that covering up dirty ethics and potential lawbreaking is routine for Mr. Jorjani.

By my count, there are at least four investigations into wrongdoing at the Interior Department that were closed or found inconclusive due to a lack of cooperation or records production on Mr. Jorjani’s watch.

These investigations covered a broad range of issues: from the potential misuse of expensive chartered flights to a halted study on the crucial health impacts of potentially dangerous Interior Department energy policies.

Then there’s the issue of the Interior Department’s new policy under the Trump administration with respect to the Freedom of Information Act.

The new policy gave political appointees unprecedented control of the department’s responses to FOIA requests.

In my view, it sure looks like an effort to conceal the fact that Trump Interior officials are spending their days doing the bidding of special interests like oil and gas giants.

There is clear evidence that this new secretive FOIA policy was implemented under the Trump administration, that Mr. Jorjani knew about it, and that he was involved in it.

When I asked Mr. Jorjani about the FOIA policy during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, he claimed it didn’t exist. He later told Senator King he had no involvement in FOIA responses.

Bottom line, I believe Mr. Jorjani lied to the committee and perjured himself.

And colleagues, I know that members on both sides are concerned by what has happened with FOIA under this administration. So-called “awareness reviews” by appointees that amount to secretive political interference. What you’re seeing happen with FOIA is inconsistent with Congressional intent, and it’s wrong.

The importance of government openness and honesty with the American people ought to be a bipartisan proposition. It’s in everybody’s interest – Democrat and Republican – to protect FOIA from evasion and abuse. That’s part of why Interior’s new FOIA policy is so troubling.

On Friday, the Interior Inspector General confirmed Jorjani is currently under investigation for his role in this FOIA policy. That fact alone ought to be enough to stop this nomination from moving forward.

Mr. Jorjani’s own words about how he views his job – “our job is to protect the Secretary” – should absolutely be disqualifying. 

If Mr. Jorjani is confirmed, the person who will be in charge of ethics at the Interior Department told colleagues his job was to protect a crook.

Colleagues, this administration has made corruption, deceit and unethical conduct the norm at the Interior Department.

Trump officials have sidelined the department’s core purpose, which is to protect our treasured public lands on behalf of all Americans. Instead, it seems that they’re laser-focused on serving corporations that poison our drinking water, pollute our air, fuel climate change and destroy the natural treasures that Americans love.

What I want to know is, where will the Senate draw the line? I’m strongly opposed to Mr. Jorjani’s nomination. I urge my colleagues to join me in voting no.