Elizabeth Klein – Senior Counselor to Secretary of the Interior
Klein helped run the Bloomberg-funded operation that used state Attorneys General to bring environmental litigation, raising serious ethics questions.
The Biden Administration originally intended to nominate Elizabeth Klein for Deputy Secretary but withdrew its intention once it was clear she would not receive enough votes to be confirmed. Now she is one of Secretary Haaland’s top lawyers. Environmental special interests have described Klein as “the experienced, steady hand to implement the Biden climate plan.”
But what exactly is Klein allowed to work on considering her previous employer’s involvement in almost every major issue facing the Department? Over the last four years, she helped run Michael Bloomberg’s operation that paid state Attorneys General (AG) offices to sue the Trump Administration, including the Department of the Interior. Adding to the confusion over what guidance she may be receiving, the biography released by the Department announcing her role as Senior Counselor to Secretary Haaland contains no reference to her former employer and major source of potential conflicts.
Ethics laws exist to prevent just this type of situation from draining the public’s trust in their government officials. So what are Elizabeth Klein’s ethics obligations and what is she already working on?
High-ranking government officials are required to avoid participating in any particular matter where a reasonable person would raise a question regarding the employee’s impartiality in participating in such matter.
Yet Klein was involved in coordinated efforts to challenge almost every major policy of the Department. As Secretary Haaland’s Senior Counselor, Klein may be asked to participate in many of these matters unless her potential conflicts of interest are clearly identified. How can she genuinely resolve the many potential conflicts of interest and impartiality concerns raised by her previous employment? For instance, each of the lawsuits brought by Bloomberg-funded state AGs, and in some cases the underlying decision the lawsuits challenge, constitute particular matters. A reasonable person would have a difficult time understanding how she can be impartial on any of the particular matters in which she or the Center worked on with state AGs.