The feds are really, really curious about what Scott Pruitt’s been up to.
As the controversies surrounding the EPA chief have mounted in recent weeks, so have the federal investigations. Now, the EPA’s internal watchdog has lots of questions for Pruitt, as does the top federal ethics watchdog, and the House Oversight Committee, led by Republican Trey Gowdy.
There are at least 10 federal investigations focused on Pruitt’s first-class travel, unusually large security detail, frequent association with lobbying interests, pay raises for staffers, and, somehow, more. The mounting appearance of misconduct and corruption at the EPA has started to attract not just the attention of Democrats — 170 of whom have called for Pruitt’s resignation — but Republicans, too.
Amid all the scrutiny, Pruitt’s office has been quick to deny any wrongdoing. EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox has repeatedly responded to allegations by saying, “This is not news.” The denials, however, haven’t stopped federal agencies from poking around.
Here are the big probes currently roiling Pruitt’s scandal-ridden EPA:
The EPA’s watchdog’s got a lot of open investigations
The EPA itself is looking into a number of Pruitt’s scandals.
The agency’s internal watchdog has made four investigations public and confirmed a fifth to VICE News. A spokesperson stressed, however, that several other investigations had not yet been made public.
The latest investigation from the EPA’s internal watchdog, announced on Thursday, concerns Pruitt’s security detail accompanying him on a trip to the Rose Bowl and Disneyland, with his family, in January. They’re also investigating three other instances when Pruitt brought his security on trips, paid for by taxpayers.
"You need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you, like maybe a monk where you don't come in contact with anyone."
Pruitt has spent an unusually large amount of federal cash, at least $3 million, keeping himself safe. While past administrators have had what’s called “door-to-door” security — a detail that follows them to work in the morning and back home in the evening — Pruitt has surrounded himself with a round-the-clock team.
The internal watchdog is also looking into:
- Pruitt giving raises to political staffers using a loophole designed to let the EPA chief hire scientists without wading through bureaucracy
- Pruitt spending $105,000 worth of taxpayer cash flying first-class instead of coach
- Pruitt’s meeting with the National Mining Association
The House Oversight Committee wants to know what’s up
Rep. Trey Gowdy, the Republican head of the the House Oversight Committee, isn’t a big fan of Pruitt. The committee Gowdy runs has asked the EPA chief to turn over all records related to the condo he rented from the wife of an oil and gas lobbyist for just $50 a night, as well as details about his security detail.
“You need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you, like maybe a monk where you don't come in contact with anyone," Gowdy said of Pruitt’s first-class travel on Fox News Sunday.
Democrats what to know about those pay raises (and everything else)
A group of Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Pruitt after a former EPA staffer — who also happened to be a former Trump campaign adviser — gave juicy details on basically every scandal that Pruitt’s facing. In no uncertain terms, the lawmakers demanded documents related to the condo rental, the controversial staff raises, the private jet travel, and more.
There’s also a probe from Republican Sen. John Barrasso, the head of the Senate Environmental Committee, who was, until recently, a major Pruitt apologist. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Tom Carper, both Democrats, had revealed in their own letter to federal investigators that Pruitt has toggled between four separate email addresses to conduct his work at EPA.
In response, Barrasso demanded records related to Pruitt’s use of multiple email addresses, which looks to Barrasso like a way to evade public records requests.
Government Accountability Office is also digging in
The top federal ethics agency took the unusual step last week of sending Pruitt a letter that recommended he get his act together. The swirling controversy around his cheap condo rental from that oil and gas lobbyist, in particular, may violate federal standards, the letter states.
The watchdog is also considering whether to look into the pay raises the EPA gave to three political staffers after three Democratic senators — Tammy Duckworth, Tom Carper, and Sheldon Whitehouse — asked the agency to check them out. To give the raises, Pruitt used a loophole in a safe drinking water law designed to give the EPA chief necessary leeway to bring on scientists without wading through red-tape.
Finally, the Government Accountability Office concluded this week that Pruitt’s office broke the law by spending $43,000 on a soundproof booth meant to up his security and privacy. Under federal law, Pruitt’s office need to run any purchases above $5,000 by Congress before pulling the trigger.
Even the White House wants to know what’s up
After the revelation that the EPA bought the soundproof booth illegally, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget opened its own probe of the purchase on Wednesday.
"I'm not interested in covering for anybody else," the agency’s head, Mike Mulvaney, told House lawmakers. "I’m not any happier about it than you are.”
Cover image: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a meeting at the White House in Washington, on Feb. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)