EPA chief Scott Pruitt has so far survived a lot of scrutiny over a host of scandals, but now the government’s top ethics officials are probing deeper into his actions, and new emails have surfaced contradicting Pruitt's past statements.
David J. Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent a letter to EPA ethics official Kevin Minoli on Monday asking about Pruitt’s most recent scandals — his $50-a-night condo rental from an energy lobbyist; first-class flights from D.C. to his home state Oklahoma; and the demotion and transfers of agency staff members who raised concerns about these scandals — and urged Minoli to take the necessary action against Pruitt.
“The success of our government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve,” Apol said in the letter. “The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed.”
The OGE doesn’t have the power to directly punish Pruitt or demand that he respond to their complaints. But it can ask that President Trump take action against Pruitt and punish him for his alleged wrongdoing, as he would for any other federal official who violates federal rules, the New York Times reports.
Regarding the condo rental, Pruitt had defended the arrangement last Wednesday as being cleared by the ethics committee. But the next day Minoli said he was reinvestigating whether the deal violated federal gift rules, saying Pruitt didn’t give him complete information during his initial investigation.
And new info surfaced Monday about recent raises for favorite staffers: Top EPA officials told the Atlantic about emails that show Pruitt’s approval of one employee’s $56,000 raise, despite him claiming he had no clue his employees had gotten huge raises without permission of the White House. The agency was already being investigated by the EPA’s Inspector General for the raises, and now there was proof that Pruitt signed off on them — and allegedly lied about it. Top aides began trying to find all of the proof that contradicted Pruitt’s statements, according to the Atlantic, as a way of “getting ahead” of the investigation that was coming.
“It’s an ‘oh, shit’ moment that they’re trying to figure out before the IG finds the email,” an anonymous EPA staffer told the Atlantic.
Yet another Pruitt scandal came up at the press briefing Monday, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders fielding fresh criticism over Pruitt’s large security detail (Pruitt has said he needs that many people because he receives so many threats). But there wasn’t any proof, Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey pointed out, asking why there are no police records of any threats that would warrant a large security team.
Sanders said she couldn’t confirm any security threats against Pruitt.
“There have been a number of questions raised,” she said. She later added that the White House is still reviewing the report by the EPA about Pruitt’s first class travel and condo rental in the Capitol.
Trump tweeted support on Sunday:
Cover image: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks 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)