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Watchdog questions if top Haaland attorney committed 'egregious' violation of federal law

The watchdog sent a letter to the Interior Department's inspector general.

Updated: July 20, 2021 - 5:28pm

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A government ethics watchdog Tuesday filed a complaint with the Department of the Interior, asking the inspector general to look into whether a high-ranking official committed an "egregious violation of ethics commitments."

The watchdog, Protect the Public's Trust alleged that in June 2021, Daniel Cordalis, Deputy Solicitor for Water Resources at the Department of the Interior, which is headed by former New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, had rescinded a Jan. 2021 memo pertaining to the collection of user fees associated with the Central Valley Project Improvement Act.

They allege that rescinding the memo "appears to have the effect of increasing funding to a Restoration Fund from which the Yurok Tribe in California has been a beneficiary."

In its letter to the OIG, the group alleges that court records show that the tribe was a client of Cordalis as recently as January, when the first memo was authored. Records show that Cordalis' wife currently serves as the Yurok Tribe’s general counsel, according to the group.

Federal employees are required to act without bias, and to avoid situations that create the appearance of a conflict of interest. They cannot work on matters where they have what is terms a “covered relationship,” which includes former clients and a  spouse’s employer.

"The Biden Administration promised 'the most ethically vigorous administration in history,' " Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said Tuesday. "At what point does Secretary Haaland begin holding her staff to that high standard?"

The group is asking the Department’s OIG whether Cordalis’ actions constitute a violation of ethical commitments and federal law.

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