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Top ethics official asks EPA to ‘appropriately address’ Pruitt controversies

Top ethics official asks EPA to ‘appropriately address’ Pruitt controversies
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The federal government’s top ethics official on Friday implored the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to properly investigate Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittBiden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Democratic lawmaker calls for DOJ investigation of entire Trump administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump races clock on remaining environmental rollbacks | New Interior order undermines conservation bill Trump campaigned on, critics say | Trump administration to further advance lease sales at Arctic refuge: report MORE’s alleged ethical violations and potentially take action against him.

David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), told the EPA’s top ethics official, Kevin Minoli, that Pruitt’s actions “raise concerns and may constitute a violation of the States of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch” as well as President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE’s ethics pledge.

“The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed,” Apol wrote in the letter, first reported Monday by the The New York Times, and released publicly by OGE on Monday.

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The letter came after a week of reports about numerous controversies involving Pruitt’s spending of taxpayer money, hiring practices, ethics and more.

The EPA and Pruitt have consistently defended his actions as aboveboard and compliant with relevant laws and standards, but numerous former ethics officials and ethics advocates have disagreed.

Apol and his office do not have the ability or authority to punish Pruitt for alleged ethical lapses.

Trump, who does have the power to fire Pruitt, tweeted Monday that two of the most high-profile controversies involving Pruitt — his travel expenses and his apartment rental — are “OK,” and Pruitt is “doing a great job!”

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment on the ethics letter Monday.

Apol’s letter focuses on three areas.

First is Pruitt’s rental last year of a bedroom from the wife of an energy lobbyist for just $50 per day he slept there. Apol noted that Pruitt “did not seek ethics advice prior to entering into the lease” to uncover any potential violations of gift rules and that ethics staffers were provided “limited information” about it to write rulings on its compliance.

Second, Apol brought up Pruitt’s spending on travel, security and aides’ salaries, and the allegation that Pruitt enlisted an aide to help him shop for apartments.

“Reports of the administrator making frequent official trips to his home state at government expense to offset the expense of returning home for personal or political reasons do raise concerns about whether the administrator is using his public office for personal gain in violation of ethics rules,” he said.

Lastly, Apol wrote of allegations that Pruitt punished staffers for objecting to his spending and management decisions, which he called “extremely concerning.”

“If true, it is hard to imagine any action that could more effectively undermine an agency’s integrity than punishing or marginalizing employees who strive to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that safeguard that integrity,” the ethics official wrote.

Walter ShaubWalter Michael ShaubEthics experts ask Senate to investigate Graham's probe of mail-in voting Interior 'propaganda' video and tweets may violate ethics laws, experts say Louisiana House candidate fundraises off opponent's tweet about wife's 'premonition' dream MORE, who preceded Apol atop OGE before resigning last year, has been outspoken against Pruitt, saying that there is a good chance his actions have violated ethics rules. The White House chose to elevate Apol to the acting director role after Shaub left.