Fourth Pruitt Aide Leaving Amid Swirling Controversy at EPA

(Bloomberg) -- The fourth departure this week of an Environmental Protection Agency official was announced on Friday, in a move suggesting continued fallout from the controversies swirling around Administrator Scott Pruitt.

John Konkus, the agency’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs, is leaving to lead communications at the Small Business Administration.

On Thursday, it was announced that Associate Administrator Liz Bowman, Konkus’ boss and the EPA’s top public affairs official, was departing to join the staff of Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican. Other confirmed departures this week: Albert “Kell” Kelly, the EPA’s top adviser on Superfund cleanups, and former Secret Service agent Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, who led Pruitt’s security detail. Longtime Pruitt ally Samantha Dravis announced her resignation last month.

The exodus comes amid steep criticism of Pruitt, including calls for his ouster by at least 170 Democratic and four Republican lawmakers. There are at least 10 federal investigations into Pruitt, including probes of his rental of a Capitol Hill bedroom from a lobbyist for $50 a night under unusually generous terms, frequent taxpayer-funded travel to his home state of Oklahoma, questionable spending decisions at the EPA, and raises granted to two top aides over White House objections.

Lawmakers also want to know more about Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco in December, amid revelations that a lobbyist helped orchestrate the expedition -- and then made a deal to formally represent the North African country in the U.S.

Konkus had faced scrutiny for his role in vetting EPA grants and his authorization to conduct outside media consulting for private clients.

Democratic lawmakers said in a letter that they had “serious concerns” about the impartiality of Konkus and others who continued side gigs in the private sector while working for the federal government. Konkus had gotten permission to continue providing “consultative media advice.”

In a congressional hearing last week, Pruitt said he was aware that EPA ethics officials had approved Konkus’ request to continue working as a media consultant. Pruitt also rejected a lawmaker’s suggestion this created an appearance of a lack of independence: “The ethics officials didn’t believe that,” he told lawmakers.

Toxic Mess

On Friday, Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, said Konkus’ departure shows that “Scott Pruitt’s toxicity has infected the upper echelons of EPA leadership, and the process of cleaning this mess must begin with Pruitt’s dismissal.”

“Mr. Konkus’ tenure at EPA was emblematic of the way that special interests have been empowered to subvert the EPA’s core mission under Pruitt,” Beyer said in an emailed statement.

EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson praised Konkus’ work, which began even before Pruitt’s confirmation. Konkus was a “sherpa” helping guide Pruitt through the Senate confirmation process, including meetings with senators and his hearing.

“John has been a valuable member of the EPA communications team,” Jackson said in an emailed statement. "Administrator Pruitt is grateful for John’s service and wishes him well as he continues to serve the Trump administration.”

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