Top EPA official under investigation in document destruction

A top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) political appointee is under investigation for his suspected involvement in the destruction of important documents that should have been retained, Politico reported late Thursday.

The investigation by EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) focuses on Ryan Jackson, the chief of staff to agency head Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications EPA appeals board is unconstitutional without reform MORE.

Politico reported the OIG is trying to determine whether Jackson has routinely destroyed sensitive documents, including schedules and communications with lobbyists like Richard Smotkin, who helped arrange former EPA head 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 controversial trip to Morocco.

The investigation renews interest in claims that Pruitt was keeping a “secret calendar” in order to hide meetings with executives from industries regulated by the EPA.

A National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) investigation found those claims to be unsubstantiated, but EPA’s OIG has continued the probe.

A source told Politico that Jackson was repeatedly put on notice that he was improperly handling documents.

“They would scold us on a daily basis and Ryan would say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know, we’ll do better next time,’" a former official told the publication.

The EPA pushed back on Friday.

“Even the National Archives have publicly stated these claims are ‘unsubstantiated.’ Politico choosing to run this story on the baseless claims of one disgruntled former employee does not make it true. EPA takes record retention seriously and trains all employees (career and political) on proper protocols and will continue to follow them,” spokesman Michael Abboud wrote in an email to The Hill.

Abboud also pointed to a letter from NARA focused on the calendar review, which found “no evidence that staff members deleted meetings that actually occurred from the official calendar.”

It is not clear whether the OIG probe is limited to destroying documents related to Pruitt’s calendar.

News of the investigation comes as Jackson’s stonewalling of OIG investigators in at least one other investigation has prompted a public battle between the agency and its internal watchdog.

OIG sent a “Seven Day Letter” to Congress and the EPA this week detailing its struggles in getting Jackson to cooperate.

That battle spilled into Friday when the OIG released another letter critiquing an EPA legal opinion the agency relied on which argued the agency had done enough to accommodate investigators.

An OIG spokesperson would not comment on the nature of the ongoing investigations that spurred the Seven Day Letter.

“Because it is ongoing, we’re not able to identify the topic or any details of the investigation,” the office told The Hill.

Officials found guilty of unlawfully handling documents can be fined and face up to three years in jail.