Pruitt Tried to Buy Used Mattress From Trump Hotel Last Year

(Bloomberg) -- A top EPA aide helped agency chief Scott Pruitt try to buy a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, one of several personal tasks she conducted for the administrator whose sleeping arrangements have already prompted investigations.

The quest for a discount mattress was detailed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s director of scheduling and advance, Millan Hupp, in an interview with congressional investigators. There’s no indication of why Pruitt decided to look for a used mattress at the Trump International Hotel, which is operated by one of President Donald Trump’s companies.

The unusual pursuit was only one of several personal tasks Hupp conducted for Pruitt, according to excerpts of the interview, released Monday. Hupp also helped Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general, hunt for housing in Washington and arranged his trip to California to watch the University of Oklahoma Sooners play in the Rose Bowl.

The revelation is the latest ethical question involving Pruitt, a conservative hero for working to roll back environmental regulations, but whose tenure has been marred by investigations and calls for his resignation. He is the subject of at least 10 federal investigations, including a probe of his $50-per-night rental of a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium from a lobbyist.

U.S. ethics rules bar federal employees from using their public office for private gain and from soliciting gifts from their employees; they also cannot accept gifts from employees who earn less pay than they do. Subordinates also are barred from making a donation or giving a gift to a superior in the federal government.

Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, has alleged that if Pruitt accepted Hupp’s help without compensating her, it could constitute an improper gift, and has asked the EPA inspector general to probe the matter.

At a May 16 Senate hearing, Pruitt acknowledged receiving Hupp’s help finding housing, but said he understood her assistance was undertaken “on personal time.”

Democratic Representatives Elijah Cummings, of Maryland, and Gerald Connolly, of Virginia, said the new details about the extent to which Pruitt utilized Hupp for personal tasks are troublesome.

“If Ms. Hupp’s statements to the committee are accurate, Administrator Pruitt crossed a very clear line and must be held accountable,” the lawmakers said in a letter to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy. “Federal ethics laws prohibit Administrator Pruitt from using his official position for personal gain and from requesting and accepting services from a subordinate employee that are not part of that employee’s official duties.”

The mattress search stands out as one of the more unusual personal tasks in Hupp’s portfolio as one of Pruitt’s top aides.

“The administrator had spoken with someone at the Trump hotel who had indicated that there could be a mattress that he could purchase -- an old mattress that he could purchase,” Hupp told Republican and Democratic congressional staff in a May 18 interview.

Hupp exchanged emails with the managing director of the Trump International Hotel on Sept. 14, 2017, in a bid to buy the used bedding, but said she wasn’t sure if Pruitt ever made the purchase. It was around the time Pruitt was moving between Washington residences, she told the congressional staff.

The president is, apparently, a fan of the mattresses used in his branded hotels. In May 2011, he tweeted how "guests are raving our our exclusive hotel mattress," adding a link so followers could purchase their very own. He repeated the sales pitch in October 2012, this time noting that his "Trump Home Mattress Collection by Serta is setting records -- they are really phenomenal."

The hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Patricia Tang, said Monday that the establishment does not sell its used mattresses.

Democrats, who released excerpts of Hupp’s interview with congressional staff Monday, have pressed Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, to subpoena records from the EPA.

“We are working diligently with Chairman Gowdy and are in full cooperation in providing the committee with the necessary documents, travel vouchers, receipts and witnesses to his inquiries,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

Hupp said she spent more than "a couple hours a week" helping find long-term rental housing for Pruitt, over the course of several months. She worked with at least two realtors and visited more than 10 prospective locations to help Pruitt nab the right spot.

Hupp said some of the housing search was conducted during work hours, with visits generally during lunch, and came after the administrator asked for the help. He did not pay her for the assistance.

Hupp said she did personal tasks for Pruitt because of her friendship with him, extending to her time working with him in Oklahoma. "We worked very closely together and spent a lot of time together," she told congressional investigators. "I traveled with him, so naturally, a friendship developed."

The two have met socially "in the past," she added.

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