Watchdog requests probe into relationship between top EPA aide and man investigating him

Watchdog requests probe into relationship between top EPA aide and man investigating him
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A government watchdog group is requesting an investigation into reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assistant inspector general (IG) is friendly with a man at the center of an IG investigation.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wrote a letter to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (IGIE) integrity committee Friday asking them to look into the reports of the close relationship.

CREW expressed the fear that the relationship could taint the current investigation into Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments Sanders endures press grilling over Russia Court blocks EPA policy against enforcing truck pollution rule MORE's head of security Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta.

The New York Times first reported Thursday that Perrotta was being investigated and that he had been spotted sharing beers with EPA's assistant IG, Patrick Sullivan.

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Both Sullivan and Perrotta had served with the Secret Service prior to coming to the EPA and Perrotta had previously worked in the IG's office before moving to security for former President George W. Bush.

"It appears that the information set forth in the Times article merits review by the Integrity Committee as conduct that may undermine the independence ... of investigations currently being undertaken by the EPA Inspector General," CREW wrote in its letter.

The EPA's office of inspector general said Sullivan and Perrotta did not know each other prior to 2011 and categorically denied that they drink together. 

"They have worked together since 2011 on issues related to their official duties, such as threat investigations," said a spokesman. "They are professional colleagues and friendly, but do not socialize outside of work."

Jordan Libowitz, CREW spokesman, said it was important that the committee act quickly.

"Since any IG investigation into Pruitt will have a lot riding on it, this needs to be addressed now, or the investigation risks being tainted from the start," Libowitz said.

The EPA said it does not comment on inspector general matters and the EPA's IG office refused to confirm or deny an investigation. However, the EPA indicated support for Perrotta and the inspector general's office said they would welcome a "review regarding CREW’s concerns."

“Nino Perrotta is a dedicated government employee who has honorably served the past four EPA administrators,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

IGIE did not respond to requests for comment.

Perrotta is under investigation for helping give an EPA security contract to a business associate.

In March, Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief? Congress can protect midterm elections with the Disclose Act MORE (D-R.I.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Fewer than half of school districts test for lead | Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act | FEMA avoids climate change when discussing plan for future storms Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act Full interview: Democratic candidate Kerri Evelyn Harris discusses her Senate campaign in Delaware MORE (D-Del.) sent Pruitt a letter saying a contract awarded to Edwin Steinmetz Associates, a company owned by the vice president of technical surveillance countermeasures at Sequoia Security Group, may represent a conflict of interest. 

Perrotta is a principal of the same security company, according to his LinkedIn page. 

Edwin Steinmetz Associates was hired to conduct a security sweep for listening devices in Pruitt's office, for which it was paid $3,000. 

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox disputed appearances of cronyism, saying in a statement at the time, "According to EPA’s Protective Service, security sweeps are common practice in government, as former EPA Administrators Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyLawmakers rally to keep Pruitt from transparently restricting science EPA says it abandoned plan for office in Pruitt’s hometown Overnight Energy: Pruitt blames staff for controversies | Ex-Obama official to head new Harvard climate center | Electric vehicles on road expected to triple MORE also had their office swept. We looked at a couple of different vendors and career administrative officials approved the same vendor that the Office of the Inspector General used and other offices within EPA.”

-Updated 7:15 p.m.