EPA watchdog to investigate Pruitt’s condo rental from lobbyist

EPA watchdog to investigate Pruitt’s condo rental from lobbyist
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) watchdog is investigating 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 rental of a condo last summer from the wife of an energy lobbyist.

EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins confirmed in a letter sent this week to Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) that was released Friday that the watchdog will "review the matters."

In the letter, Elkins says that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) had received "multiple requests from multiple members of Congress, as well as other OIG hotline complaints, regarding these same and related issues."

In addition to the condo rental, Elkins said he will look into allegations that Pruitt or his aides retaliated against employees who questioned his spending or ethical decisions and that a staffer helped Pruitt shop for apartments, which would be illegal.

Some of the matters will be added to existing investigations, and some will involve newly opened inquiries.

An EPA spokesperson said the agency does not comment on OIG investigations.

Both Lieu and Beyer had written to the OIG in early April to investigate the matter of Pruitt's condo rental. 

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For about six months last year, Pruitt rented a Capitol Hill condo for $50 for each night he slept there from Vicki Hart, a health lobbyist whose husband, J. Steven Hart, was a lobbyist at the time with some energy industry clients.

Pruitt’s daughter also stayed at the condo for a period of time and he frequently paid rent late, according to reports.

The EPA has maintained that the rental was at a market rate and legal. Ethics officials at the agency approved the arrangement, but only after the news of it broke in March.

Democrats and others have charged that the arrangement presents, at the very least, an appearance of a conflict of interest for Pruitt.

The condo rental is just one in a series of spending and ethical scandals that have surrounded Pruitt in recent weeks.

The letter his week also confirmed that the OIG is additionally investigating concerns about Pruitt's travel expenses, use of staff and expenditures for security and staff salary approvals.

The letter this week also confirmed that the OIG is additionally investigating concerns about Pruitt's travel expenses, use of staff and expenditures for security, staff salary approvals, use of his subordinate's out-of-office time, and reassignment or demotions of staff members seeking to comply expenses with the law.

Elkins said some of the matters would be added to previously announced OIG investigations while others will be part of new probes. He said the results for each review will be announced separately as they are conducted.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the agency does not comment on OIG investigations.

Pruitt appeared before two House subcommittees Thursday to defend himself against accusations that he misused funds or committed ethics violations, saying the various situations were either aboveboard or someone else’s fault.

The condo rental agreement was already being investigated by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and numerous Democratic lawmakers demanded explanations or documents regarding the arrangement.

Elkins’s decision to review the matter comes after the federal Office of Government Ethics demanded that the EPA investigate the rental and other allegations against Pruitt.

Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s top ethics official, referred that office’s request to Elkins to take up.

The OIG is also investigating Pruitt’s security spending, first-class travel, $43,000 privacy booth and other high-profile controversies.