Administration

Pruitt made one phone call to White House using $43K soundproof booth

Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt used the $43,000 secured phone booth he installed in his office to make one phone call to the White House, according to recently released phone logs, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Pruitt made a five-minute call to President Trump's White House on Jan. 29, according to Verizon phone logs released after a lawsuit from environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club.

It is unclear how many calls Pruitt may have received in the soundproof, secured phone booth.

EPA spokesman James Hewitt declined to tell the newspaper what the phone call to the White House was about.

"EPA has learned from Verizon that in order to request complete phone logs of all incoming and outgoing calls to or from these lines, EPA would need to supply Verizon with a subpoena for the records," Hewitt said Monday.

Pruitt was strongly criticized for the booth.

"Cabinet level officials need to have access to secure communications," Pruitt told lawmakers in December, defending the move. "It's necessary for me to be able to do my job." 

Pruitt had compared the booth to a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) used by government officials to have secure conservations. 

The EPA headquarters already had a SCIF, but it was not near the administrator's office, the newspaper noted.

An investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in April found that the booth was illegal and in violation of Congress's governmentwide spending law passed last year, which caps office redecorations and refurnishings at $5,000 without prior notice to lawmakers.

The EPA argued that the installation of the booth was not a redecoration and therefore was not limited to the congressional cap. 

The soundproof booth was one of several ethics investigations opened against Pruitt, who resigned from his position in July after months of controversies.

In addition to the booth, he also spent nearly $3.5 million in his first year to have a round-the-clock security force and had the agency spend taxpayer dollars on a new SUV and bulletproof vests for him.

This story was updated at 5:24 p.m.

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