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 PruittEPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses 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 WhitehouseCitizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-R.I.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin Democrats, greens blast Trump rollback of major environmental law EPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity 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) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group Overnight Energy: Automakers group sides with Trump in emissions lawsuit | Latest on California wildfires | Walden won't seek reelection | Park Service scraps plan to charge protesters for security 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.