Gavin Clarkson, center, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is seen at an energy roundtable at the White House on June 29, 2017. Photo: Office of Public Affairs - Indian Affairs

Report cites 'disturbing' conduct of former Bureau of Indian Affairs official

• Inspector General looked into ethics allegations against former Trump administration official, based on complaints by fellow employees.
• "Disturbing" conduct left some employees "in shock," according to new report.
• Gavin Clarkson responds: "False allegations were made, an investigation was conducted, and nothing happened because nothing had happened."
A quote from the Inspector General report about the need for more training was incorrectly attributed. The post has been updated to reflect the source of the statement.

A former Bureau of Indian Affairs official who left the Trump administration under a cloud was the subject of an ethics inquiry after employees found his behavior to be “disturbing” and left them "in shock," according to a new report.

The report from the Office of Inspector General at the Department of the Interior does not identify the former official by name. But it's clear the subject is Gavin Clarkson, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, who had been working on economic development issues during his short stint at the BIA last year.

It was precisely that work which spawned the inquiry. According to the report, Clarkson "encouraged" subordinates at the BIA to pay out a controversial tribal loan, one that he had helped secure prior to working for the federal government.

“Why don’t you guys just pay that guarantee?” Clarkson told one subordinate, the report stated.

“It would be best for everybody if the problem went away,” he allegedly told a second.

The failed loan, which is in default and is the subject of litigation, was connected to a second ethics issue. According to subordinates, Clarkson encouraged the BIA to hire three of his former business associates, "all of whom had been involved in the loan guarantee," the report said.

Due to a hiring freeze in place at the time, one subordinate said no one was being considered for jobs at the BIA. But he told investigators that he would “think twice” about hiring anyone connected to Clarkson because they had all worked on a “bad deal.”

Another subordinate shared a similar story. Shortly after joining the Trump administration, Clarkson had suggested hiring two of his former business associates, prompting the employee to label his suggestion as “disturbing,” the report stated.

Clarkson even talked about hiring one of his relatives, according to the report. He later claimed that he had only been "joking" but others weren't so sure.

Clarkson had been “very serious” and “aggressive" about employing the relative through a contract, the report stated, relying on the account of one employee. Two other employees said they had heard of similar discussions and one official admitted maybe he went too far in talking about it.

"This official acknowledged during his interview that such a comment should not have been made, and said that senior officials who were new to the DOI needed to receive more training on the 'impact' of their words," the report stated in reference to Clarkson, who sat for one interview with the Office of Inspector General.

Clarkson's prior economic development work in Indian Country led to a third ethics issue in the report. He allegedly told other employees that he "had worked on projects with two specific tribes in the past and planned to continue to assist these tribes on the same projects" despite being barred by federal law from giving preferential treatment to anyone.

Three employees were so bothered by the comments that one said he was "in shock" after hearing them, the report said. One of them later asked Clarkson if he had received ethics training but claimed he "never answered the question."

During his one interview with investigators, Clarkson admitted he helped set up meetings between the two tribes and Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior. But beyond that, there was no evidence he gave them special treatment.

The Inspector General talked to officials from both tribes, who said Clarkson "had not assisted them in any other way since he became a DOI employee," the report stated.

Clarkson's title at the BIA was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development, a political position. After his hiring, which was first reported by Indianz.Com last June, Zinke touted Clarkson's background in tribal economic development .

“Dr. Gavin Clarkson’s expertise in the areas of law, finance and economic development are a valuable asset to the Department of the Interior and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs as we work together with tribes to increase economic opportunity and promote self-determination throughout Indian Country,” Zinke said a month after Clarkson came on board.

Clarkson, though, only lasted through December. He resigned -- some at the department allege he was forced out -- after his connections to the failed tribal loan drew unwanted attention in the media.

But Clarkson, who is running for Congress in New Mexico as a Republican, adamantly denied encouraging anyone at the BIA to pay out the guarantee.

"I took no actions whatsoever associated with that loan guarantee," Clarkson told Indianz.Com on Wednesday. "I gave no directives whatsoever associated with that loan guarantee. I was completely recused."

In a written statement, Clarkson also said the report was based on "false allegations." He blamed the inquiry, which did not result in any action against him while he was still employed at Interior, on disgruntled career bureaucrats who were upset by the arrival of President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., last year.

"When I first arrived at the Department of the Interior, I did not realize how deep the swamp really was and to what level the Deep State bureaucrats and Obama holdovers who had embedded themselves really hated the Trump administration and were actively trying to impede both President Trump and Secretary Zinke in reforming DOI," Clarkson said in the statement.

As the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development, Clarkson oversaw the BIA's loan guarantee program, which was the subject of another Inspector General inquiry. Due to limited oversight and inadequate controls, staff at the BIA's Division of Capital Investment (DCI) acted in a way that "created unnecessary risk for loans already considered risky," the report stated.

"As of September 30, 2016, DCI was potentially liable for $606 million in guaranteed loans," the report noted.

As a consultant for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Clarkson helped secure a $22.5 million loan that was backed by the BIA. The money was used to purchase a Wall Street firm that eventually went belly up.

The BIA is now being sued in federal court for refusing to guarantee the remaining $20 million in debt.

Clarkson's connections to the loan were well known prior to his arrival at Interior. The deal was the subject of numerous posts on Indianz.Com and in other sources, including The Sioux Falls Leader and Human Rights Watch, an independent group. A 2016 administrative proceeding at the Interior Board of Indian Appeals also offers detailed insight into his role as an economic development consultant for the tribe.

After ProPublica brought the story to a wider audience last November, Clarkson was the focus of intense scrutiny at the department. According to some sources in the building, he was soon asked to resign after returning to D.C. from an international trip.

The department declined to comment at the time because his status was considered a "personnel" matter.

Officially, Clarkson stayed on board through the end of December. He submitted a resignation letter to Secretary Zinke on December 29 and announced his campaign for Congress. He is seeking the Republican nomination in New Mexico's 2nd district, which is home to several tribes.

Clarkson's full statement about the Inspector General report follows:
The bottom line is, false allegations were made, an investigation was conducted, and nothing happened because nothing had happened.

It is worth noting that all of the alleged events took place in my first few weeks at Interior when I was the only Trump official in Indian Affairs. When I first arrived at the Department of the Interior, I did not realize how deep the swamp really was and to what level the Deep State bureaucrats and Obama holdovers who had embedded themselves really hated the Trump Administration and were actively trying to impede both President Trump and Secretary Zinke in reforming DOI.

One of the first issues I tackled was congressionally mandated telework, a terrible idea that was signed into law by President Obama in 2010 when the Democrats controlled both houses. This unmonitored payoff to public sector unions, which the GAO has pointed out has no evidence that it is good for the taxpayer, has become a sacred right of the Deep State to abuse. So, it is no wonder that many of the bureaucrats felt that I was creating a hostile work environment because I was insisting on a work environment and requiring teleworkers to actually do their job.

As tribal leaders verified, I never helped any tribe on any project that I had worked on previously, and false statements from inside the Deep State are just that, false statements.

While I maintain that the loan guarantee on the tribal project that Lois Lerner blew up should have been paid by the program, by the time I arrived at DOI, the case was already in the federal courts and out of our hands, so it was impossible for me to have influenced anyone to pay on the guarantee, nor did I attempt to do so. And, as the report correctly noted, I recused myself from any involvement in the matter.

While I did pass along resumes of people that I thought were qualified to contribute to the Trump agenda, including former colleagues, former students, and even registered Democrats, I never initiated nor was in any way involved in any attempt to hire anyone, either as an employee or a contractor.

Finally, I was attacked for making a joke that, given how shorthanded we were in Indian Affairs, my elderly mother could contribute as an editor from her hospital bed. Since she wasn't a member of AFGE, apparently the Deep State didn't find that funny, although the report notes that at least one other subordinate clearly understood that I was joking. I guess the Deep State doesn't find anything funny when you are trying to make them accountable when they are teleworking.

Office of Inspector General Report:
Investigation of Alleged Ethics Violations by a Senior DOI Official (February 26, 2018)

Prior Office of Inspector General Reports:
Stronger Internal Controls Needed Over Indian Affairs Loan Guarantee Program (November 2017)
Summary: Guaranteed Loan to Lower Brule Ignored Risk Factors (March 2017)

Human Rights Watch Report:
Secret and Unaccountable: The Tribal Council at Lower Brule and Its Impact on Human Rights (January 2015)

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