Trump-era official sees criminal referral over alleged quid pro quo in Arizona

(The Center Square) – The House Natural Resources Committee announced its first-ever criminal referral to the Department of Justice on Wednesday this week.

Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Katie Porter, D-California, made the criminal referral showing what they believe is a likely criminal quid pro quo between Trump administration officials, including former U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary David Bernhardt, and real estate developer Mike Ingram.

The committee’s investigation found a series of donations made by Ingram to the Trump Victory Fund and Republican National Committee totaling $241,600.

The donations came simultaneously with an announcement from the Trump administration that they would re-evaluate the Clean Water Act permit that officials had previously denied Ingram. It had been denied for his proposed Villages at Vigneto mega-development along the San Pedro River in Arizona.

A whistleblower inside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service named Steve Spangle said in 2019 that he was “rolled” by the Trump administration to reverse the decision which allowed Ingram’s development to move forward.

Bernhardt didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the accusations. Ingram's attorney sent a lengthy response to Yahoo News.

“The referral sent by Chairman Grijalva and Subcommittee Chairwoman Porter is false, misleading, unfair, and strikes me as reminiscent of McCarthyism’s use of innuendo as a surrogate for fact,” attorney Lanny Davis said. “El Dorado participated in multiple meetings with this Committee, acted in full transparency, and gave full cooperation without a subpoena. Despite this, we were denied the basic and fundamental opportunity to rebut the allegations in this referral and denied a chance to even speak to the chairman."

Jennifer Rokala, executive director for The Center for Western Priorities, issued a statement on the matter on Wednesday.

“These are extremely serious allegations against one of the highest officials in the Trump administration,” she said. “The Department of Justice must quickly follow up on this evidence and conduct a full investigation, including interviews with the political appointees and career attorneys who carried out Bernhardt’s orders.

“We said all along that David Bernhardt was too compromised and too corrupt to be a cabinet secretary. This is damning evidence of a straight up pay-for-play favor. Mike Ingram got a secret meeting with David Bernhardt early in the Trump administration. Then the very same day that Bernhardt flipped the career officials under him, the cash flowed in to the Trump campaign.”

The Army Corps of Engineers suspended the Clean Water Act permit at the forefront of this investigation last year.

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