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Pending Trump cabinet nominee faces a series of awkward questions

When Donald Trump announced two months ago that David Bernhardt was his choice to succeed Ryan Zinke as the new Interior secretary, it was immediately controversial for a variety of reasons. Bernhardt is, after all, a former oil lobbyist.

In fact, while serving as Zinke’s deputy, Bernhardt had so many conflicts of interest, the Washington Post reported last year that he had to “carry a small card listing them all,” because he “worked for years as a lobbyist representing many of the very businesses he now regulates.”

To date, none of this has bothered Republicans on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. A series of new controversies, however, should theoretically put Bernhardt in a new light. The New York Times reported this morning, for example:

A previously unreleased invoice indicates that David Bernhardt, President Trump’s choice to lead the Interior Department, continued to lobby for a major client several months after he filed official papers saying that he had ended his lobbying activities.

The bill for Mr. Bernhardt’s services, dated March 2017 and labeled “Federal Lobbying,” shows, along with other documents, Mr. Bernhardt working closely with the Westlands Water District as late as April 2017, the month Mr. Trump nominated him to his current job, deputy interior secretary. In November 2016, Mr. Bernhardt had filed legal notice with the federal government formally ending his status as lobbyist.

The Washington Post reported yesterday, meanwhile, that the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General is “reviewing allegations that [Bernhardt] may have violated his ethics pledge by weighing in on issues affecting a former client.”

Congressional Quarterly also reported that two congressional committees are investigating whether Bernhardt “maintained his personal schedules on a private Google document that was written over at the end of every day, something the department denies.”

The New York Times reported last week, meanwhile, that scientists at the Interior Department spent years carefully examining the impact of three specific pesticides on endangered species, and concluded that the pesticides put hundreds of species in jeopardy.

The pesticide industry didn’t care for the findings – and soon after, David Bernhardt was among the officials who allegedly blocked the release of the report.

There’s a reason a protester in a Swamp Creature mask sat behind the Republican nominee during his recent confirmation hearing.

In the wake of reports like these, common sense suggests the White House would consider withdrawing Bernhardt’s nomination. Indeed, this would ordinarily be the point at which members of Congress might call up the West Wing and say, “You know, maybe it’d be a good idea to nominate someone else.”

This morning, however, the Republican-led Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance Bernhardt’s cabinet nomination. The issue now heads to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote.