Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stands for a photograph after an interview in his office at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Republicans Ask Pruitt for Documents, Interviews With Top Aides

(Bloomberg) -- Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are broadening their investigation into allegations of ethical misconduct by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, as they seek interviews with five key aides.

The Republicans also asked for an array of documents about Pruitt’s security detail and its lead member, Pasquale Perrotta, citing “new information” in a letter sent to Pruitt on Friday. They inquired, too, about the lease for a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium that Pruitt rented under unusually agreeable terms last year.

Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy sent the letter a day after lawmakers detailed allegations by the EPA’s former deputy chief of staff for operations, Kevin Chmielewski, who told congressional staff about wasteful spending, unethical behavior and retribution against agency staffers who questioned the activity.

"The committee recently became aware of new information regarding your official travel and February 2017 lease agreement," Gowdy wrote.

The request also comes amid intensifying scrutiny of Perrotta, a former Secret Service officer who goes by Nino, who is at the epicenter of most decisions to bolster spending on security at the EPA, including around-the-clock bodyguards for Pruitt and biometric locks in his office.

Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said he wanted the documents and information by April 27, and was seeking interviews with top staff members.

The panel is asking for interviews with EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson; Chmielewski; Perrotta; Director of Scheduling and Advance Millan Hupp; and Sarah Greenwalt, the senior counsel. Both Hupp and Greenwalt received raises worth tens of thousands of dollars over the White House’s objection, with the EPA using special authority under a drinking water statute to make the change.

Those raises are being reversed.

Conflicting Accounts

Earlier this week, Jackson, who, like Pruitt, is from Oklahoma, said he was responsible for the raises, and his boss had "zero knowledge" about the amount or the process by which they were implemented. That account conflicted with what Chmielewski told congressional staff; that the higher salaries "were 100 percent Pruitt himself."

EPA officials said they were cooperating with Gowdy’s request.

“We have responded to Chairman Gowdy’s inquiries and we will continue to work with him,” an agency spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, said by email.

The panel had already been investigating Pruitt’s travel and his rental of the condominium bedroom from a lobbyist at the rate of $50 per night. The new request signals the committee’s inquiry is deepening amid expanding allegations about Pruitt’s team.

Gowdy asked the EPA to turn over travel documents for a December 2017 trip to Morocco as well as any communications showing who was behind the determination to protect Pruitt 24 hours a day.

Gowdy also seeks documents related to Pruitt’s June 2017 trip to Italy, including the decision to hire a private Italian security firm.

Italian Motorcade

In interviews with congressional staff, Chmielewski, a former aide in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, told of a $30,000 contract with private Italian security personnel. And the Associated Press previously said private security guards hired by Perrotta helped arrange "an expansive motorcade for Pruitt and his entourage" during the Italy trip.

Gowdy also is asking for documents tied to a decision to perform security sweeps of the EPA office, a request that comes amid questions about the contract awarded to one of Perrotta’s business partners: Edwin Steinmetz, the vice president of technical surveillance countermeasures at Perrotta’s Maryland-based company Sequoia Security Group Inc. Perrotta is the security firm’s principal, and the EPA’s $3,000 contract to search for bugs was awarded to Edwin Steinmetz Associates.

Wilcox previously said similar security sweeps were conducted for recent Democratic EPA administrators.

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