Grijalva Asks DOI to Disclose Political Appointee Vetting Procedures After Racist and Delusional Statements by Interior Officials

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of multiple high-ranking Department of the Interior (DOI) officials making racist, delusional or conspiratorial public statements on social media, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke today requesting “a detailed description of the vetting process at DOI for acting and permanent political appointees, including any review of relevant qualifications, background, and ethical considerations.”

Grijalva’s letter, available at http://bit.ly/2EHx0W2, is prompted by several recent embarrassing episodes at the Department.

In one high-profile instance, Kevin Sabo, acting chief of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs at the Bureau of Reclamation, has “a history of posting social media material that promulgates conspiracy theories and incendiary speech from a public Facebook page which lists his official DOI job title,” including comparing the students who survived the recent Parkland school massacre to Nazis on the basis of their support for gun violence reduction policies.

“The Nazis took everyone’s guns away too,” Sabo wrote. “A lot of similarities with these kids.”

Sabo was disbarred from the Bar of the District of Columbia in 2003 following a felony conviction for attempted malicious wounding. He had cut the brake lines of a former girlfriend shortly after their breakup, causing the woman to hit a tree the next time she drove the vehicle. The incident was public record when he was nominated to his position.

Another deeply troubling episode involved Christine Bauserman, a political appointee serving as one of Zinke’s special assistants, who “resigned after conspiracy theories, anti-Muslim comments, and anti-LGBT sentiments were uncovered on her social media accounts.”

As Grijalva writes, both incidents “raise questions about the effectiveness of the process for vetting political appointees.” His request includes both the vetting process at the DOI level and, “For political appointees at the bureau level, [. . .] the vetting process that DOI conducts prior to the individual bureau’s process.”

Grijalva’s request says nothing about the free speech rights of private citizens. Rather, he writes, his concern is based on how extremist views are represented as part of an official’s government service.

“Government employees are free to express their personal views on social media, but posting content while representing oneself as a civil servant is cautioned against in agency policy and raises ethics questions, particularly for those in leadership positions,” Grijalva writes. “Further, publicly sharing content that represents radical, hateful, or conspiratorial viewpoints degrades the American public’s trust in their leaders’ ability to make policies and decisions based on objective facts and science, not extremism and delusion.”

Zinke has not offered any clarity on why Sabo or Bauserman were initially placed in their respective positions – a curious omission, especially since both officials’ controversial histories were publicly available knowledge before they received their appointments.

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