As his ethical scandals continue to snowball, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was back in the hot seat Wednesday in front of a Senate appropriations subcommittee. Chided by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and lambasted by ranking member Tom Udall (D-NM) and others, Pruitt was repeatedly pressed to answer questions related to investigations, now more than a dozen, underway by EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and even the White House. Yet he continued to deflect any and all blame onto his staff and the media.
Despite Pruitt’s evasions and attempts to run out the clock without answering questions during the hearing, several Senators were tenacious in their questioning. As a result, Pruitt let some sensational details slip:
#6. “Steve Hart is someone that was not registered as a lobbyist in 2017”
Previously the Administrator had assured critics that Steven Hart, whose wife cut him a sweetheart deal on a posh condo in D.C., was not a registered lobbyist and did not bring business before the EPA during Pruitt’s tenure. Yet as Sen. Udall exposed in his prodding of Pruitt, the lobbying disclosure reports show that the lobbyist’s firm did have clients with business before the EPA.
#5. “It's my understanding that all activity there was on personal time. And the individual that you're referring to is a longtime friend of my wife and myself.”
When asked if an aide, Millan Hupp, had contacted realtors and set up tours for Pruitt's private residence on his behalf, Pruitt explained that the "longtime friend" of him and his wife, engaged in this work during "personal time," though he rushed to say that had nothing to do with the thirty-three percent raise his office approved for the staffer.
One of the few times Pruitt deviated from his refrain of, “I do not recall”, he admitted he didn't pay Hupp for the work. Senator Udall remarked that this fact made the house hunting a gift, and said, “that's in violation of federal law.”
#4. “That was all done after the fact.”….“It was.”
When asked about the sweetheart deal condo rented from the wife of a lobbyist whose firm had business before the EPA, Pruitt conceded to lawmakers that the agency’s ethics officials reviewed the arrangement only after the deal became public.
#3. "What a silly reason you had to fly first class—nobody even knows who you are."
Sen. Patrick Leahy lambasted Pruitt for suggesting previously that an August 2017 report on threats about him justified a 24/7 security detail. However, a document from the EPA Inspector General's Office clearly shows Pruitt requested 24/7 security immediately upon becoming EPA Administrator, before any such assessment could be done.
#2. A common theme: “I’m not aware”/“I don't recall that”
Pruitt displayed an impressively detailed memory and knowledge about funding for projects in individual Senators’ states or polluted sites needing remediation. But his command of the facts seemed to magically vanish when it came to questions about these ethical investigations.
For example, EPA staff claimed Pruitt often requested that his driver turn on the lights and siren in his chauffeured federal vehicle in order to get around DC, and even to a dinner reservation at Le Diplomate, a swanky French restaurant in Washington. When questioned about it on Wednesday, he repeatedly claimed that he could not recall ever ordering his security detail to flash the vehicle’s lights and blare sirens. Pruitt maintained, “there are protocols in place,” on using these features.
But just moments later, Sen. Udall shared an email from the recently-resigned head of Pruitt's security detail, which said, "Administrator encourages the use” of the lights and sirens.
#1 “The agency conducts the review process and they followed the statute.”
Pruitt insisted there was no political review of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests within the EPA, however internal emails show that the Administrator’s office, including political appointees, reviews requests and information releases pertaining to Pruitt.
The American people deserve better—they deserve an EPA that will protect their clean air, water, and bedrock environmental safeguards from big polluters and the special interest lobbyists Mr. Pruitt seems to be so close with. His disdain for the American people, our environment, and public health is clear to see.
We can’t afford to wait. It’s time.
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