Top officials at Donald Trump’s Interior Department were directly involved in a short-lived campaign to blast agency critics from an unclaimed troll Twitter account, according to internal documents HuffPost obtained.
The Twitter handle @NoBullBison quietly appeared in April 2019 and began taking swings at the administration’s critics. “Bison bringing the facts - calling out the bull,” read the profile’s bio, a reference to the federal agency’s bison seal.
In its first post from the profile, the Interior Department lashed out at the left-leaning Center for American Progress over a report the group produced that found that one-quarter of all new oil and gas leases approved by the department were within migration corridors for big game species like elk and mule deer ― habitats that the Trump administration had vowed to identify and better protect.
Documents that HuffPost obtained last week through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Daniel Jorjani, the agency’s top lawyer, and Todd Willens, then the acting chief of staff for then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, were among those involved in crafting the initial rebuttal of CAP’s report.
Willens forwarded CAP’s report without comment to two colleagues on April 18, 2019. Casey Stemler, a senior adviser at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responded later that morning, writing that he’d “become sick and tired of various people and groups claiming the Order does this or that or it will lead to this or that,” referring to a secretarial order that Bernhardt’s predecessor, Ryan Zinke, signed in 2018.
“It would be great if we had a communication effort to [sic] so I can lay out the facts,” Stemler added.
Willens forwarded Stemler’s lengthy response to Interior Department communications staff, directing them to “get on this and put out truth.”
Faith Vander Voort, the Interior Department’s top spokesperson, used her official government email account to set up the No Bull Bison account. She quickly chimed in: “I think this would make a fantastic first ‘No Bull from the Bison’ tweet.”
Vander Voort drafted a series of tweets using Stemler’s email and forwarded them to Jorjani. After some confusion — “??,” Jorjani initially responded — he signed off on the thread.
“Team,” Vander Voort wrote to colleagues in the secretary’s office. “Wanted to let you all know that I received the golden thumb of compliance from Dan (see below). Unless I hear otherwise from any of you before 4:30pm, I am going to let it rip from the Bison account.”
“I’m good,” Willens responded approvingly, noting that a retweet from Bernhardt would be “likely.”
Vander Voort subsequently emailed Bernhardt to ask if she could retweet the post from his account. The documents do not include any response from the secretary, but his official government Twitter handle did retweet it later that day.
It wasn’t until the following day, April 19, and only after HuffPost revealed that the @NoBullBison profile was set up using Vander Voort’s government email address, that the Interior Department acknowledged the account as its own.
As HuffPost previously reported, @NoBullBison’s run on social media was brief and insignificant. Over the six months it was active, it posted just five times and garnered little engagement.
In its final tweet, the handle targeted then-Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, for apparently misstating the number of federally recognized tribes in the U.S. during a congressional hearing. But instead of a fair, accurate fact-check, Trump Interior officials used their troll account to misrepresent Haaland’s words.
In March, Haaland was confirmed as the 54th secretary of the Interior Department, the massive federal agency that oversees roughly one-fifth of all land in the U.S.
The @NoBullBison, thankfully, has stopped flatulating online.