Energy & Environment

EPA ethics official didn’t have some facts in evaluating Pruitt’s lease

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top ethics official had limited information when he ruled last week that Administrator Scott Pruitt’s condo rental last year was legal.

Kevin Minoli, a career EPA employee, wrote in an ethics opinion last week that Pruitt’s lease — $50 per day he slept there, renting from the wife of a lobbyist with energy industry clients — complied with federal ethics rules.

But in a new memo on Wednesday, Minoli clarified that his evaluation was based on the assumption that Pruitt followed the terms of the lease exactly.


“Some have raised questions whether the actual use of the space was consistent with the terms of the lease. Evaluating those questions would have required factual information that was not before us and the Review does not address those questions,” Minoli wrote in the memo, obtained by the Campaign Legal Center and first reported by CNN.

The lease, attached to the memo, gives Pruitt the right to use one bedroom. But ABC News reported last week that his adult daughter used the second bedroom for a period of time while Pruitt lived there last year, without paying additional rent.

Pruitt has repeatedly cited Minoli’s memo to argue that his lease was completely above board, most recently in an interview with Fox News that aired late Wednesday.

The new memo came after Walter Shaub, who now runs the Campaign Legal Center’s government ethics program, asked Minoli various questions about the ethics opinion. Shaub had led the federal Office of Government Ethics from 2013 until his resignation last year.

“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,” Shaub 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.”

Shaub and others have raised the possibility that the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen and its clients may have received preferential treatment due to Pruitt’s lease, an allegation that the EPA has denied. Vicki Hart, the landlord for the condo, is married to J. Steven Hart, chairman of the firm.

The EPA said the new memo simply backs up the one from last week.

“This memo reassures Friday’s memo from EPA career ethics officials, who determined that the condo lease was lawful, based on market information for similar rentals on Capitol Hill,” EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman told CNN.

“As we have explained in regard to earlier inquiries, there is no connection between decisions Administrator Pruitt has made at EPA and any place he has lived. Any attempt to draw that link is patently false.”

Minoli’s memo also said he did not consider whether Pruitt’s lease arrangement violated other ethics standards. That includes the “impartiality rule,” which states that Pruitt must treat parties with business before the EPA impartially.

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt Walter Shaub

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