Scott Pruitt has so far survived a swirl of ethics scandals, but the D.C. condo rental is turning out to be a bigger problem.
The EPA chief had come under fire for renting a room in a Washington condo owned by an energy lobbyist, for just $50 a night — way less than market rate for any local hotel room — but he defended the arrangement Wednesday as being cleared by the ethics committee, and said he still had the support of the president. Now, however, the top EPA ethics official is re-investigating whether the deal violated federal gift rules, and President Trump has distanced himself from Pruitt.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that the president wasn’t OK with the condo deal, a few days after Trump reportedly called Pruitt to say “Keep your head up” and “Keep fighting.”
“We are reviewing the situation,” Sanders said. “When we have had the chance to have done a deeper dive on that, we will let you know the outcomes of that.”
She added that the president still thinks Pruitt is “doing a good job,” but that they are taking the issue seriously.
The EPA’s ethics watchdog, Kevin Minoli, is reviewing the situation again, saying Pruitt didn’t actually give complete information the first time.
Under the lease, Pruitt was supposed to use only one room, but several EPA officials told the Washington Post that his adult daughter stayed in a separate room while she was interning in D.C. Pruitt would also be in violation if he met with anyone from the landlord's lobbying firm while staying in the condo.
“If it turns out Pruitt's daughter was staying in the other room, that's not covered by the ethics opinion because it's outside the scope of the lease,” Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics who now runs the Campaign Legal Center's government ethics program, told CNN. “It would raise a factual question as to whether the landlord knew and permitted his use of the second room, which would be a gift.”
Among other ethics scandals plaguing Pruitt’s tenure at EPA: using a loophole to increase staff salaries, costly travel, and several other controversial moves. This newest scandal has led to one of his top aides resigning, sources telling the Associated Press that his situation is “unsustainable,” and even rumors that he might not have a job by next week.
Cover image: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks with an aide during 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)