A top Department of Interior lawyer may have lied during a Senate hearing about his involvement in the department’s public records request process, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to the Justice Department on Tuesday.
As a result, Wyden said, he was putting a hold on the lawyer’s nomination to be DOI’s solicitor general. He also called for a perjury investigation into the nominee.
Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s current principal deputy solicitor general, used to be employed by various Koch brothers organizations before joining the Trump administration. He drew Democrats’ ire earlier this year after a March 2017 email surfaced in which he expressed concern about a potential watchdog investigation into another staffer’s eye-popping travel expenses. “Our job is to protect the secretary,” Jorjani wrote.
In November 2018, then-Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order putting Jorjani in charge of the DOI’s public records release process. In May, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jorjani told Sen. Angus King (I-ME) that “I, myself, don’t review FOIAs or make determinations,” Wyden noted to the DOJ.
In a subsequent letter to Wyden on May 15, the senator noted, Jorjani wrote that DOI “does not have a ‘heightened awareness process’” by which DOI political appointees were made aware of records requests relevant to them, potentially allowing them to delay or block the release of documents.
However, Wyden said, internal records (obtained via FOIA and reported by RollCall and others) indicate that’s exactly what took place. In an August 2018 email, for example, a political appointee “intervened in a FOIA request during the awareness process, telling FOIA processor Justin Wilkinson ‘please hold up on sending this until we speak,’” Wyden wrote.
Therefore, Wyden told the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, “I am … requesting your office initiate an investigation into whether Mr. Jorjani knowingly made misleading statements before Congress.”
The group behind the FOIA request showing the internal DOI communications, Earthjustice, requested an investigation in June of “political interference” in DOI’s public records process and “lack of candor” during Jorjani’s testimony, HuffPost noted.
The New York Times reported last week that an inquiry, carried out by the DOI Inspector General’s Office, had been opened.
Wyden, in a separate letter to that office, requested that it expand the investigation to include a look at Jorjani’s role.
“I believe your investigation may be the best hope of uncovering information critical to a possible DOJ investigation before the Senate moves forward with his confirmation vote,” Wyden wrote to Acting Inspector General Gail Ennis.