Ethics Investigation Lawsuit Seeks Documents from Biden’s Interior Department

The wedding of Joe Biden’s Interior Secretary Deb Haaland last summer has resulted in a new federal lawsuit over the government’s failure to produce public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The records that are being sought involve an investigation into potential violations of ethics rules surrounding the wedding.

The new case was filed last week by the watchdog organization Protect the Public Trust (PPT). The complaint alleges that the Department of the Interior should be compelled to release records related to the wedding. PPT believes that the requested records might contain evidence of impermissible gifts or the use of public resources in the course of Haaland’s ceremony.

PPT alleges that it first submitted its requests soon after the wedding last August in compliance with FOIA requirements, but the Interior Department has refused to comply four times with PPT’s efforts to follow up on the requests.

PPT director Michael Chamberlain said the department would have reasonably been considered to be on notice to prevent any ethics violations because of the potential of improper actions related to Haaland’s wedding. He noted that the failure to comply with the FOIA requirements “hardly demonstrates” the department’s commitment.

The controversy surrounding Haaland’s wedding in New Mexico began when photos of the celebration were made public because of violation of masking rules. Prominent politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) were shown ignoring the rules that had been put in place by Democratic Governor Lujan Grisham.

At the time of the wedding, the governor’s mask mandate applied to every person 2-years-old and older in indoor spaces except when eating or drinking.

PPT’s lawsuit states that while it congratulates Haaland and wishes her a happy marriage, her involvement in a large event that normally includes sizable gifts and may have involved the use of government resources makes the event “more than a purely private affair.”

The Department of the Interior’s Ethics Office rules provide that department employees may only accept gifts worth more than $20 once per occasion from one person. Some exceptions apply to gifts clearly based on purely personal relationships.

The lawsuit alleges that the department has refused to release a list of attendees and other documents as requested and states that it is now apparent that the government will not comply with FOIA unless ordered to do so by the court.

The government has not yet replied to the complaint filed in the case.