UPDATE — 4/2, 8:51 p.m. EDT: Politico reported Monday White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is actively considering the ouster of EPA chief Scott Pruitt, according to a “senior administration official”.
Despite bad press from Pruitt’s exorbitant use of public funds to pay for travel and personal security expenses, Kelly is waiting for the environmental agency’s inspector general report to see if the ultra-effective de-regulator can skate by without inflicting further PR damage on the administration.
The revelation this week EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rented a Washington, D.C., condominium co-owned by the wife of an oil and gas industry lobbyist at a discounted rate marks the latest example of untoward methods of operation by the former Oklahoma state attorney general.
First reported by ABC News on Thursday, it has since been learned Pruitt paid $50 per night to stay at the Capitol Hill area residence where the going rate for a room averages approximately $120. In addition, official records dug up by the Associated Press show a lobbyist from Steven Hart’s firm, Williams & Jensen, met with Pruitt in his EPA office along with energy company executives at least once during his six-month stint at the condo in 2017.
Hart and his wife Vicki, the latter who founded a healthcare lobbying firm in 2002, are known in D.C. circles as a “lobbyist power couple” from Oklahoma who previously donated to Pruitt’s campaign for attorney general in 2010. Making the arrangement look even worse, sources told ABC Pruitt’s daughter also used the apartment in the summer of 2017 during her White House internship.
The crux of the matter is that Williams & Jensen’s clients include businesses regulated by the EPA who paid the firm millions of dollars collectively in 2017 alone, including Exxon Mobil, liquified natural gas company Cheniere Energy, Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Norfolk Southern railroad, creating a potential conflict of interest.
Responding to the charges, Mr. Hart called the current EPA head a “casual friend” who he only had minimal interactions with since Pruitt’s arrival in Washington in early 2017. It should be noted however that Hart also served as a member of then President-elect Trump’s transition team.
“(Pruitt) apparently did not report the details of his arrangement to ethics counsel at the EPA beforehand, nor to the public,” said ranking Democrat on the EPA oversight subcommittee, Rep. Don Beyer (Va.). “As he has done over and over again, he showed contempt for transparency, ethical guidelines and the public interest.”
Despite the concerns of environmental and government ethics advocates, top EPA ethics official Justina Fugh brushed off news of the arrangement, saying the $6,100 Pruitt paid in-total for use of the residence does not violate agency policy. Late Friday, the EPA officially cleared Pruitt of any wrongdoing, but a spokesman for the agency’s inspector general said they have been briefed on the situation.
While Pruitt may not be in legal trouble for sleeping in a bedroom partially owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, the EPA’s internal watchdog is reviewing Pruitt’s exuberant travel and security expenses paid for with taxpayer money which include a $40,000 trip to Morocco in December 2017 to lobby for the import of U.S. natural gas.
On Friday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent a letter to the EPA’s IG accusing Pruitt of extended use of his around-the-clock security detail in Washington to include personal trips back home, as well as family vacations and attendance at college sporting events.
In all, Pruitt’s travel expenses during 2017 cost the federal government almost $200,000.
[AP] [Washington Post] [Bloomberg] [CNN] [Photo courtesy Stephen Crowley/The New York Times]