May 12, 2022

Lawrence O'Donnell asked Rep. Katie Porter to talk about her committee's historic criminal referral to the Justice Department.

"I would rather have you tell this story and how it came about. And one of the things that really stuns me about it is that it centers on, among others, a Trump cabinet member who I forgot existed. I forgot who was Secretary of the Interior after the first one had to leave. But please tell us what this criminal referral is about," he said.

"So, what happened here is the deputy secretary of the interior -- the Secretary of the Interior at the time was Ryan Zinke, who is currently running for Congress. But the deputy secretary was named (David) Bernhardt. He took a secret meeting with a developer named Mike Ingraham, trying to develop a project in Arizona, in a very environmentally sensitive area. It was a secret meeting, never disclosed on any of Secretary Bernhardt's calendars. It was never disclosed to our committee, and we were investigating.

"A couple weeks later, this Fish and Wildlife career employee, just doing his job for 30 years, he gets a call around a high-level politico wanting him to reverse his decision that the development would harm the environment," she said.

She said on Oct. 6th, three things happened all at the same time.

"First, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they were reopening this permit process. Announced that they were reopening the decision. Second, Mike Ingram and his 12 buddies of his, they -- a quarter of a million dollars to the Trump Victory Fund and to the Republican National Committee. And number three, the Fish and Wildlife -- this whistleblower, this Fish and Wildlife person -- got a phone call telling him that he needed to reverse his decision. He got the phone call directly from the Department of the Interior in Washington.

"So, the facts here are really shocking. This is a quid pro quo. That's what it appears to be. In return for making nearly a quarter of a million dollars in donations, to the Victory Fund, to the Republican National Committee, this developer was basically able to buy his way around environmental protection law.

"The facts of the case are shocking and they are very, very serious. Quid pro pro is the most insidious form of corruption there is. And officials need to know, just because they tried to hide their tracks, doesn't mean that Congress is not going to do its job and conduct that oversight. When we find crimes, we are not afraid to make the referral to the Department of Justice," she said.

"And you found that in your subcommittee investigation, which you have now basically forwarded on to the Justice Department, to see if they find criminal conduct," O'Donnell said.

"Yes. The chair of the Natural Resources committee, Raúl Grijalva, was working on this investigation. I took it over on the Oversight subcommittee. We did it together. And I am really, really proud of how careful and thoughtful. And what we try to do here, really, was get the facts. And we made the criminal referral so that the Department of Justice can conduct the depositions and go through the formal legal process to reach their determination of whether criminal charges should be filed. But given the evidence before us, we have a responsibility as congress members to see that the law is being followed. And so it does not appear that that happened here and that's why we need this unusual step.

"It's the first time that the House Natural Resources committee has ever made a criminal referral. And I think that speaks to just how egregious the conduct is here and just how important it is that we in Congress are reestablishing the rule of law, and the expectation that the cabinet members are going to follow it."

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