March 23, 2017

Meet the new Trump staffers in charge of tribal, land, water and wildlife issues

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U.S. Department of the Interior

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and NPS staff talk during the secretary's visit to Glacier National Park. Flickr

When speaking to a congressional committee more than two decades ago about a bill that would have made sweeping changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, Kathleen Benedetto said the landmark 1973 law was flawed for not taking “into consideration that extinctions are part of that natural process.”

“If you look at the geological record, you can see throughout time that extinctions occurred,” Benedetto said in the 1995 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing. “We’re all aware that the dinosaurs were here for millions of years, and they’re not here any longer, and they disappeared long before man ever emerged as a species.”

Related: Bill would terminate BLM, Forest Service law enforcement

Benedetto co-founded the Women’s Mining Coalition and spoke on behalf of Grassroots ESA Coalition, an anti-regulation group aligned with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Now, Benedetto is one of the new special assistants to Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior.

She’s reportedly in the Bureau of Land Management after working on Donald Trump’s transition team and as a Republican legislative staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee. As a GS-15 employee she’ll be earning between $101,630-$132,122 per year.

Earlier this month, ProPublica obtained a list of more than 400 people hired by the Trump administration to work within nearly 30 different agencies.

According to the story:

While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.

Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

NM Political Report downloaded the list from ProPublica and focused on the Interior Department. That department oversees agencies including Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and BLM—each of which play important roles in New Mexico.

Related: Digging into Zinke’s public lands lead ammo ban reversal

Some of the other new Interior Department staffers include:

Christine Bauserman (special assistant to the Secretary),a Republican activist from Arizona. According to a story in the Arizona Daily Star, Bauserman was involved in a lawsuit related to political fundraising in 2015:

It’s “nobody’s business” who donates to a corporation that gives money to a Tucson political action committee, the president of a so-called “dark money” group testified in court Friday.

Republican activist Christine Bauserman testified in a lawsuit against the Foundation for Responsible Accountable Government Inc.

The lawsuit, filed by Democratic activist Barbara Tellman, claims the corporation is not registered to do business in Arizona. Tellman is asking for a temporary restraining order to keep the company from conducting any further business in the state until it registers with the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Last year, Bauserman was also part of the Trump campaign in Arizona. According to a 2016 article, Bauserman was a campaign consultant and volunteered for the Trump campaign before joining as the Pima County chair.

Megan Bloomgren (no title listed), who worked during the George W. Bush administration as a U.S. Department of Energy spokeswoman.

Scott Cameron (special assistant to the Secretary), who is still listed as the president of a nonprofit, Reduce Risks from Invasive Species Coalition. He’s a biologist who has an MBA and has worked for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Interior Department in the past.

Marshall Critchfied (special assistant to the Secretary), a former Trump campaign staffer in Iowa. Previously, he was Iowa state director of the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, which supported Rick Perry’s campaign for President. A 2014 NPR story identified Critchfield as a local Republican leader in a traditionally Democratic suburb of Des Moines who called himself a “guns-and-taxes Republican.”

Douglas Domenech (White House Senior Advisor), Virginia’s former secretary of Natural Resources. Earlier, he worked for Artemis Strategies, a Capitol Hill communications and strategy firm, and Chrysalis Energy Partners. Domenech is a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, having worked as deputy chief of staff at the Interior Department, deputy director of external and intergovernmental affairs and a White House liaison. Before that, he worked for Forest Resource Association, a timber lobbying group, for 15 years. Domenech was also part of the Trump transition team.

Daniel Jorjani (special assistant to the Secretary), who worked for both the Charles Koch Institute and Charles Koch Foundation and was general counsel for Freedom Partners, an advocacy group also funded by the Koch Brothers.

Ben Keel (special assistant to the Secretary), the former Oklahoma state director for Donald J. Trump for President.

Katharine MacGregor (special assistant to the Secretary), who worked for the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and before worked for Reps. Eric Cantor and Thelma Drake, both Virginia Republicans. According to an online bio for MacGregor at Security America’s Future Energy (SAFE), “her portfolio currently includes onshore and offshore energy development on federal lands, pipelines on federal lands, and revenue from federal mineral development.”

Lori Mashburn (special assistant to the Secretary) and Ryan Nichols (no title listed), both staffers at the Heritage Foundation.

Melissa Simpson (special assistant to the Secretary), who worked on Trump’s presidential campaign in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, and before that for Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colorado. She also worked in George W. Bush’s Interior Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Zinke, a Montana congressman, also brought along some of his former staffers to be special assistants as well. James Cason was Zinke’s deputy chief of staff and legislative director. Amanda Kaster was an legislative assistant for Zinke. And Heather Swift was one of Zinke’s communications director.

Related: Interior secretary rides into work, signs two orders

Information about other new Interior Department staffers is more difficult to find. For example, Wadi Yakhour was a student at Washington State University as recently as December, according to his LinkedIn page. He lists six years of service in the U.S. Navy as well as time as communications director for a “U.S. Presidential Campaign.” Yakhour also donated to Trump’s campaign.

According to a DOI email from Jan. 21, 2017 obtained by E&E News, which says “some of these assignments may change,” Yakhour was working in Scheduling and Advance.

Here’s the complete list of Interior Department hires from ProPublica:

Thomas Baptiste
Christine Bauserman
Kathleen Benedetto
Megan Bloomgren
Caroline Boulton
Scott Cameron
James Cason
Micah Chambers
Marshall Critchfield
Natalie Davis
Thomas Dickens
Douglas Domenech
Nancy Guiden
Casey Hammond
Scott Hommel
Virginia Johnson
Daniel Jorjani
Amanda Kaster
Benjamin Keel
Katharine MacGregor
Downey Magallanes
Lori Mashburn
Ryan Nichols
Ricky Puckett
Russell Roddy
James Schindler
Melissa Simpson
Heather Swift
Timothy Williams
Wadi Yakhour

Matthew Reichbach contributed to this report.

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