Dirk Kempthorne – Why is this man smiling?

While the Bush Administration slouches its way towards an ignominious end, most of the criminals have skittered under the rug like cockroches avoiding the harsh light of day. One exception is Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorn who, like the last man standing, has been forced into the spotlight numerous times this month.

At home, the former Idaho Governor has been roundly criticized for refusing to turn over his gubernatorial papers to the state historical society. The Idaho Statesman was blunt in an editorial memo to the former governor, “Cough ’em up.”

And, there is also the small issue of the debt Kempthorne still owns from his last run for governor in 2002.

Six years after his last election, supporters of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne are still raising money to pay off debts from his final bid for Idaho governor. Kempthorne’s gubernatorial campaign committee will hold a “debt retirement reception” in Idaho next week to pay off obligations from his 2002 campaign.

This “debt retirement reception” is a bit dicey because of the possibility of violating the Hatch Act (the law that restricts political activity and interference by Federal employees).

Kempthorne himself won’t attend the cocktails-and-h’ors d’ouevres event, said Graham Paterson, a fundraising consultant who has been raising money to pay off the remaining debt from the old campaign. It is “better we maintain an arm’s length relationship between the secretary and the campaign,” Paterson said. “His name doesn’t appear on the invitation.”

The invitation does include the last name Kempthorne eight times, including in such phrases as “Kempthorne for Governor Debt Retirement” and “Make Checks Payable to: Kempthorne for Governor – Debt Retirement.”

The last few weeks have provided further concerns for Kempthorne. After over a year of stonewalling, Kempthorne was finally forced by the courts to rule on whether or not the polar bear was an endangered species. The courts cited May 15th as the deadline for a decision and on May 14th Kempthorne declared the polar bear endangered. His statement, however, was classic Bush Administration deception.

Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited dramatic declines in sea ice over the last three decades and projections of continued losses. These declines, he told a news conference, mean the polar bear is a species likely to be in danger of extinction in the near future.

Kempthorne also said, though, that it would be “inappropriate” to use the protection of the bear to reduce greenhouse gases, or to broadly address climate change.

In other words, the Environmental Protection Act forced him to declare the polar bear endangered as a result of global warming, but the Bush Administration would take no action to protect the polar bear from extinction. The Administration has already sold out the polar bear by selling the oil drilling rights to prime polar bear habitat, so Kempthorne allowed himself to become the latest face of Bush hypocracy.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was among those who felt Kempthorne was essentially forced to issue the listing, but at least acted so “that opportunities to continue to explore and drill in Alaska will not be impacted.”

In February, the Interior Department sold oil and gas rights across some 29.7 million acres of the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast — including prime polar bear habitat — for a record $2.66 billion.

The latest shoe to drop for Kempthorne occurred yesterday during a Congressional hearing.

A congressional investigator asserted Wednesday that at least four Interior Department officials may have inappropriately interfered in decisions on protection of endangered species.

The four officials – including three Bush administration appointees – may have put political pressure on lower-ranking employees who were deciding endangered species cases, said a top investigator for the Government Accountability Office.

The allegation came during a House hearing on purported interference by Julie MacDonald, a high-ranking Interior official who resigned last year after the department’s inspector general found that she pressured government scientists to alter their findings about endangered species and leaked information about species decisions to industry officials.

One of the officials accused of political interference and putting pressure on government scientists to alter their findings about endangered species was Brian Waidmann, Kempthorne’s chief of staff. According to the Associated Press:

The allegation against Waidmann marked the first time that allegations of political interference had reached the office of Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor and senator who became Interior secretary in 2006. Waidmann and Bowman, who both still work at Interior, did not return telephone messages.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called Nazzaro’s testimony and the 66-page GAO report troubling.

“A disconcerting picture has emerged of officials working at the highest levels of the Interior Department continuing to tamper with the endangered species program, trumping science with politics,” Rahall said. “The practice is pervasive and I am convinced that the only remedy is a house-cleaning, post-November.”

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