The EPA's Top Ethics Official Is Urging More Investigations Into Scott Pruitt

EPA chief Scott Pruitt speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Policy Conference in DC in June 2018.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is under 13 concurrent federal investigations in the U.S. into everything from his exorbitant 24/7 security detail and habit of backstabbing whistleblowing subordinates to pricey plane tickets and cosy relationships with lobbyists. But apparently that's not enough for the EPA's principal deputy general counsel and chief ethics officer Kevin Minoli, who the New York Times reported on Saturday has been pushing for the EPA's Inspector General to launch a "series of independent investigations into possible improprieties," according to a letter obtained by the paper.

While the EPA Inspector General is already behind several of the investigations, the Times writes that this is the first public indication Pruitt is facing a rebellion from the ethics chief, who previously was one of his defenders:

The letter is the first public acknowledgment that Kevin S. Minoli, who has frequently defended Mr. Pruitt's actions since he took over the agency in February 2017, is now openly questioning whether Mr. Pruitt violated federal ethics rules.

The letter itself is mum on the specific allegations involved. But according to the paper, one key issue is Pruitt's relationship with a lobbyist, Stephen J. Hart, whose spouse rented him out the $US50 ($68)-a-night condo in DC.

Hart worked for notorious polluter Smithfield Foods, and Minoli seems to have reversed his prior position and now seems quite interested in whether Pruitt arranged some kind of quid pro quo:

In March, Mr. Minoli defended Mr. Pruitt's lease for the condo, saying that Mr. Pruitt paid what appeared to be fair market value. He subsequently learned that Mr. Hart, who at the time was chairman of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, had repeatedly intervened with the E.P.A., and with Mr. Pruitt directly, on behalf of the lobbying clients that included Smithfield Foods and Coca-Cola.

Minoli is also asking for independent investigations as to whether Pruitt assigned aides to handle personal errands for him during work hours, which would essentially constitute using taxpayer money to pad his own lifestyle, the Times wrote, as well as a $US2,000 ($2,702) gig Pruitt's wife obtained working at a conference for NYC nonprofit Concordia, which Pruitt attended.

The Washington Post added that other referrals included Pruitt's acceptance of Rose Bowl tickets from an energy industry PR firm chief (no word on the basketball tickets he accepted from a Kentucky coal baron, but hey).

According to the letter obtained by the Times, Minoli wrote, "To the best of my knowledge, all of the matters that I have referred are either under consideration for acceptance or under active investigation." He added he was in the middle of rebuilding the ethics office after staffers left or retired en masse last year amid a hiring freeze, and soon expected at least six employees and a manager to work there.

The EPA told the Post the letter was merely a retread of " a number of administrative and staffing issues, some of which predate the Trump Administration." It also added that had launched some "early steps to address some of the concerns the OGE raised well before this letter was sent last week, including the hiring of two additional ethics officials and ongoing ethics training and retraining" of employees.

As pressure mounts on Pruitt, he's been trying to save himself by demonstrating he can get results for Donald Trump's White House: Namely, the evisceration of key regulations on water pollution and vehicle tailpipe emissions. As the New Republic recently observed, with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy scheduled to retire by the end of July, Pruitt may have an opportunity to undo decades of regulation in the coming months without significant pushback from the nation's highest court.

[New York Times/Washington Post]

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