A Guide to the Scott Pruitt Investigations

(Bloomberg) -- Scott Pruitt drew criticism from the moment President Donald Trump installed him at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, since the former Oklahoma attorney general had built his career challenging EPA rules. But that was nothing compared with the deluge of damaging revelations that have emerged in recent months. At last count, there were more than a dozen open investigations of Pruitt, not counting some informal and non-public inquiries. Here’s a guide to who’s investigating Pruitt and what’s under the microscope:

Travel

  • The EPA’s inspector general, an internal watchdog, is auditing Pruitt’s travel amid questions about frequent trips to his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense and reliance on first-class seats on commercial airplanes. This line of inquiry has twice been expanded to cover longer time frames. The current window, through the end of 2017, permits scrutiny of Pruitt’s December trip to Morocco to promote U.S. liquefied natural gas.
  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is scrutinizing Pruitt’s frequent first-class seats, marking House Republicans’ first formal investigation of a member of Trump’s cabinet. The panel broadened its investigation in April to seek more information about Pruitt’s trips to Morocco and Italy, his security protection and his lease of a Capitol Hill condominium from a lobbyist.

Security

  • The EPA inspector general is probing Pruitt’s round-the-clock security protection, including the possibility that bodyguards accompanied him on trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.
  • Separately, the inspector general is auditing the administrator’s protective service detail in response to an anonymous complaint lodged before Pruitt was nominated. In September, the inspector general released an interim report saying it had discovered an unauthorized $23,413 pay adjustment for an unnamed agent.
  • The inspector general says it is conducting preliminary research on how the EPA’s criminal enforcement office reports "availability pay" awarded to officers who frequently work extra, unscheduled time beyond their regular workdays. 

Spending

  • The Government Accountability Office already concluded the EPA violated an appropriations law by failing to notify Congress in advance of plans to spend more than $43,000 installing a secure phone booth in Pruitt’s office. The GAO said the EPA ran afoul of another law, the Antideficiency Act, by effectively spending government funds that hadn’t yet been appropriated or exceeded the appropriate amount. Federal employees who violate the law are subject to suspension from duty without pay or removal from office, as well as fines and imprisonment.
  • The White House Office of Management and Budget is examining the purchase of that soundproof phone booth, which morphed from a no-more-than $13,500 project into a $43,000 booth with silenced ventilation and "noise-lock" paneling.

$50 Condo Rental

  • The EPA’s inspector general is probing Pruitt’s rental of a Capitol Hill bedroom from a lobbyist under favorable terms that allowed him to pay $50 per day, just for the days used. Lawmakers and the U.S. government’s top ethics official had prodded the IG to launch the inquiry.

Pay Raises

  • The EPA inspector general is studying how Pruitt’s office used special legal authority to fill up to 30 "administratively determined" positions and award pay raises to some political appointees. Two of Pruitt’s top aides were given raises worth tens of thousands of dollars over White House objections, using special authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The authority, which was also used by Pruitt’s predecessors, enables EPA administrators to swiftly bring on staff. Documents released as part of an interim report on April 16 showed that Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, authorized the salary increases.

Lobbying

  • The GAO is examining whether the EPA violated lobbying laws because of Pruitt’s appearance in a video describing his opposition to a rule on water pollution enacted under former President Barack Obama. The National Cattleman’s Beef Association video urges ranchers to file public comments on the rule the EPA is now rewriting and features Pruitt explaining the importance of that input. House Democrats including Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey said Pruitt’s involvement in the video could run afoul of federal laws barring the use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying or propaganda purposes.
  • The EPA inspector general is compiling information about a meeting Pruitt had with the National Mining Association in April 2017, following a report the administrator urged the coal group to encourage Trump to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Pallone and other critics said that if true, Pruitt’s prodding would violate lobbying laws. Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. told Pallone he could submit the factual record to the GAO to investigate potential legal violations.

Conduct

  • The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is probing claims Pruitt retaliated against staff members who challenged his decisions, according to Politico and the Washington Post.
  • The EPA inspector general has agreed to scrutinize reports that staff were reassigned or demoted after questioning Pruitt’s spending, but the office said it is not clear when or how it will launch the work.
  • The inspector general has agreed to examine how Pruitt used subordinates’ time, amid revelations he enlisted aides to help with personal errands, including contacting a Chick-fil-A Inc. executive and trying to buy a second-hand mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The IG’s office said it’s not clear when it will initiate that probe.
  • The EPA inspector general is auditing Pruitt’s use of multiple email accounts, amid concerns they are not all searched in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Science

  • The Government Accountability Office is looking into the EPA’s shakeup of its science advisory committees, including the dismissal of members and the selection of replacements from oil and power companies.

Pending Requests

  • Democratic lawmakers asked Trump to conduct his own investigation of allegations by Kevin Chmielewski, a supporter of the president who worked at the EPA and, they said, “painted an extremely troubling picture” of waste, unethical behavior and “potentially illegal” actions by Pruitt.
  • Senate Democrats asked Pruitt to explain the award of a $3,000 contract to search the administrator’s office for listening devices. The contract went to a business partner of Pruitt’s former top bodyguard, Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta.
  • Democratic lawmakers asked EPA’s top ethics official to explain how the agency approved and monitors outside work by Perrotta and other employees.

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