Dems want documents on Bernhardt's lobbying work

House Democrats on Friday asked for a probe into Interior secretary nominee David Bernhardt’s relationship with one of his former clients on the heels of a New York Times report that said he continued lobbying after saying he’d stopped.

In a letter sent to leaders of Westlands Water District, a major agribusiness group in California, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanOvernight Energy: Dems dismiss Interior chief's work calendars as 'fake' | Buttigieg climate plan includes carbon tax | Poll finds growing number say climate is crucial 2020 issue Dem criticizes newest calendars for Trump Interior chief as 'fake' Human rights bill on ANWR ignores humans and their rights MORE (D-Calif.) requested all documents associated with Bernhardt and his work for the former client, including his work to weaken Endangered Species Act protections.

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“Serious questions have been raised regarding the potential conflicts between his work as a top official at the Department of the Interior (DOI) and his previous work as a lobbyist and lawyer,” for Westlands Water District, the two wrote in the letter, noting numerous complaints about Bernhardt filed with various offices.

“It is essential that the Congress and the American people have a full and complete record of the relationship between Mr. Bernhardt and Westlands so these questions can be answered, and potential conflicts of interest can be addressed.”

The New York Times on Thursday published a story that said a 2017 invoice showed Bernhardt continued to lobby for Westlands Water District for several months after filing paperwork saying he had ended his lobbying activities.

As a lobbyist for the group, Bernhardt spent years fighting to weaken endangered species protections for the delta smelt, a small fish competing for water alongside California’s agriculture industry.

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General is now reviewing allegations that Bernhardt violated his ethics pledge by continuing to work for the client, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, though the office has not committed to a probe.

“We’re reviewing the facts and requests to determine appropriate next steps,” Office of Inspector General spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo told The Washington Post.

The department had previously brushed aside ethics concerns, with ethics officials writing in letters to Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHere are the potential candidates still eyeing 2020 bids Sanders unveils education plan that would ban for-profit charter schools Warren policy ideas show signs of paying off MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that Bernhardt did not violate his recusal policy.

The Trump nominee looks likely to be headed toward confirmation. On Thursday he won approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a 14-6 vote.

But Democrats have continued to raise other issues connected with Bernhardt’s work on endangered species.

Eight Senate Democrats requested Wednesday that the Interior Department’s watchdog investigate what role Bernhardt played in preventing the release of a government report on toxic pesticides and endangered species.

“Under the current administration [the Interior Department] has repeatedly shown a willingness to completely disregard the work of career scientists and allow political appointees who are not subject matter experts to influence the decision-making process,” the senators wrote in the letter.