By Matt Corley
August 8, 2019

When the National Mining Association (NMA) held its October 2017 board of directors meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, the mining industry’s trade association was graced by appearances from three members of President Trump’s Cabinet: Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and then-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. It would have been four, but then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had to cancel due to travel. 

In his place, then-Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for at least one member of the mining trade group, spoke to the mining industry executives. During his speech at the event, Bernhardt, discussed the Interior Department’s agenda under President Trump, which he described as “leveling the playing field” for industry, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by CREW via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents related to his appearance at the Trump hotel. In his remarks, Bernhardt, who replaced Zinke as Interior Secretary in 2019, also praised the quality of the event’s location, the hotel that his boss, President Trump, still owns. 

The documents obtained by CREW also include the NMA’s letter inviting Zinke to speak to the trade association’s members about the Trump administration’s “plans to advance policies that will address permit delays, roll-back excessive regulations and remove other obstacles to allow the domestic mining industry to perform to its full potential.” CREW requested records related to Perry, Ross, and Acosta’s appearances at the 2017 NMA meeting at the Trump hotel as well, but has so far only received records pertaining to Perry and Bernhardt.  

“Why do I tell you this story as we visit in such a nice venue?” Bernhardt asked rhetorically after telling a personal anecdote about a friend whose father died in a mine accident. The reason he told the story, according to Bernhardt, was to emphasize to the mining executives that he and Zinke took their “responsibility to regulate extremely seriously” even as the Trump administration was seeking to make “the regulatory environment fairer, more transparent, and predictable” for the mining industry. 

“We are trying to get out of your way,” Bernhardt told the mining company executives whose trade-group event President Trump was profiting from. “We are going to be relentless in trying to minimize regulatory and permitting uncertainty,” Bernhardt added after cataloging some of the Interior Department’s industry-friendly regulatory and policy efforts. 

Since President Trump took office, the Trump hotel in DC has become a popular location for a variety of special interests seeking to influence administration policy to hold events. Interests in the energy sector that stand to benefit from President Trump’s deregulatory agenda have been especially regular customers. Trump administration officials like Bernhardt have appeared at many of the events where the industry patronized the President’s hotel.

In March 2018, for instance, both Perry and Zinke were scheduled to attend the American Petroleum Institute’s board meeting at the Trump hotel. Zinke, who Bernhardt replaced as Interior Secretary in 2019, addressed the oil and gas industry trade group’s meeting at the Trump hotel in 2017 as did former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. Bernhardt’s predecessor also spoke at a Domestic Energy Producers Alliance (DEPA) event at the Trump hotel in 2018. Pruitt attended a separate DEPA meeting at the hotel in 2017. 

While it’s common for Trump administration officials to appear at events held at one of the president’s private businesses, it’s less common — though not unheard of — for them to vocally praise the businesses. When Energy Secretary Perry spoke to the National Mining Association, for instance, he also touted the Trump administration’s effort to aid the mining industry by lifting regulations, but he did not mention or promote the president’s property in the process, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by CREW through its FOIA request. 

Bernhardt, on the other hand, appears to have gone out of his way to compliment the quality of the president’s private business to hosts who paid to hold their event there and have interests before the government.