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 PruittTrump admin appeals ruling ordering EPA to ban pesticide Government watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels 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 WhitehouseKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Dem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE (D-R.I.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTrump Jr. to Dem Senator: 'You admitted to hitting your wife so hard it gave her a black eye!' Melania Trump's spokeswoman gets Hatch Act warning for #MAGA tweet EPA to abandon restrictions against chemical linked to climate change 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) McCarthyCalifornia commits to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 Overnight Energy: Watchdog faults EPA over Pruitt security costs | Court walks back order on enforcing chemical plant rule | IG office to probe truck pollution study EPA unveils new Trump plan gutting Obama power plant rules 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.