The White House just launched its own investigation into EPA chief Scott Pruitt — in addition to at least seven other federal probes for his various scandals.
The Office of Management and Budget announced Wednesday that it’s opening an investigation into Pruitt spending $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth for his office, which the government’s top ethics watchdog found to be illegal last week.
Besides the White House investigation, the EPA’s internal watchdog is running at least five probes, along with several others prompted by members of Congress. And there’s also the one that the Government Accountability Office just wrapped up, which found the EPA broke the law by purchasing the booth.
"I'm not interested in covering for anybody else," Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told House lawmakers Wednesday. "I’m not any happier about it than you are.”
Pruitt should have run the expense by Congress before buying the booth, according to the Government Accountability Office. By not doing so, the EPA flouted the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies from spending government funds without Congress’s approval.
The booth is reportedly four feet wide and four feet deep and was installed in a storage closet attached to Pruitt’s office, according to Bloomberg. The EPA says it needed the booth to keep the administrator’s conversations secure. But there was already a soundproof room for secure communications at EPA headquarters — it just wasn’t in Pruitt’s office.
The EPA acknowledges that it didn’t tell Congress about the soundproof booth, but argues it didn’t have to.
"EPA disagrees with GAO's legal conclusion that this expenditure also required notice to Congress, but we are addressing GAO's concern with regard to Congressional notification," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told VICE News in an email on Wednesday.
If Mulvaney’s office finds Pruitt to have broken the law also, it’s not clear what the next steps would be. Agency heads don’t generally face criminal prosecution for buying stuff they shouldn’t, but Mulvaney did say his office would look into what the legal consequences might be.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson opted for a $31,000 dining set for his office, a purchase he later cancelled. Federal law requires congressional approval “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if the cost exceeds $5,000. (That’s the same law Pruitt was found to have broken.)
Because Carson canceled that expense, the White House’s budget office didn’t launch a probe into the purchase of dining set, Mulvaney said on Wednesday.
And while plenty of Trump’s cabinet members have spent taxpayer cash extravagantly, only Tom Price, former Health and Human Service Secretary, resigned after coming under fire his use of private jets.
At least 170 members of Congress, however, called for Pruitt to resign on Wednesday — and the lawmakers specifically cited the soundproof booth.
Cover image: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, center, winks at National Automobile Dealers Association president and CEO Peter Welch, right, as he takes the podium to speak at a news conference at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, Tuesday, April 3, 2018, on his decision to scrap Obama administration fuel standards. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)