Democratic lawmakers assailed EPA chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday for the ethics and spending scandals that have prompted multiple calls for his ouster. The chairman of the panel that is questioning Pruitt called the allegations a “distraction but one this committee cannot ignore.” (April 26)
Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing new criticism after it was revealed his controversial trip to Morocco was partially arranged by a lobbyist and cost $100,000 — more than double what was previously reported.
The report in The Washington Postdetails more about the December trip, including that Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist who is a longtime friend of Pruitt, accompanied him on the trip and served as a liaison.
Originally, the trip was reported as costing about $40,000, but information obtained by The Post shows it topped $100,000.
The newspaper notes Smotkin’s role in the trip is unusual and could pose more problems for Pruitt since federal laws prohibit public officials from using government resources to financially benefit friends or relatives.
Months after the visit, Smotkin registered as a foreign agent representing the Moroccan government after taking a contract with the country. The contract, which he won last month, pays him $40,000 a month to promote the Moroccan cultural and economic interests, the Post reports.
The EPA, in a statement, acknowledged Smotkin’s role but insisted the agency led the effort.
“Mr. Smotkin assisted in arranging the October 25 meeting, but EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs organized and led the effort around Administrator Pruitt’s official meetings with the Moroccan government,” agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.
Pruitt did not comment on the specifics of the report only saying the meeting “allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders, as well as identify opportunities for continued cooperation.”
USA TODAY did not independently confirm other details of The Post’s report.
The report on the lobbyist-arranged trip to Morocco is the latest in a string of alleged ethical and spending missteps being investigated, including the awarding of pay raises to top aides, luxury travel accommodations, his below-market rental agreement with the wife of an energy lobbyist, and the installation of a secure phone booth, the latter which was found to be in violation of congressional spending laws.
On Tuesday, two of Pruitt’s most controversial aides left the EPA: Nino Perrotta, Pruitt’s security chief, and Albert ‘Kell’ Kelly, a top adviser to the administrator on the Superfund program.
Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent, has been at the center of Pruitt’s controversial security arrangements which include round-the-clock security and flying in first- or business-class as a way to protect the administrator from passengers who could pose threats.
Despite his departure, Perrotta is expected to appear Wednesday for a transcribed interview by staffers of the House Oversight Committee investigating Pruitt’s high-cost security procedures, according to The Washington Post.
Kelly joined the EPA last year to lead a task force examining ways to revamp the Superfund program — a priority for Pruitt. Around the same time, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation fined Kelly $125,000 and banned him from banking for aan alleged banking violation while he was head of Tulsa-based SpiritBank, according to a consent order.
“Kelly’s service at EPA will be sorely missed,” Pruitt said. “In just over a year he has made a tremendous impact on EPA’s Superfund program, (serving) in a way that puts the needs of the American people and communities first, while respecting the work committed to by responsible parties.”
EPA officials also found themselves responding to criticism Tuesday from Democratic lawmakers who accused Pruitt of establishing an EPA office in his hometown of Tulsa, OK, in an arrangement the agency said was similar to previous administrators who occasionally worked in satellite offices near their homes.
The office was to feature a conference room, secure parking space, and secure phone line similar to the one that cost taxpayers $43,000 to install, according to a joint release from Democrats Don Beyer, D-Va., Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tex., and Suzanne Bonamici, D-Or.
“Establishing a new EPA office in Tulsa may be personally convenient for you, but it seems ethically questionable, professionally unnecessary, and financially unjustified,” they wrote in a letter to Pruitt.
EPA Spokesman Jahan Wilcox said there’s already an office in Tulsa for two agency employees when they need to work remotely but it proved too small for Pruitt’s needs.
“This location is not practical or usable for Administrator Pruitt’s business and he has never used this office,” he said in a statement to USA TODAY.
The revelations Tuesday are just the latest that has put Pruitt in hot water as questions mount about potential ethical and financial mismanagement.
Last week, the EPA Administrator faced questions on a litany of questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill about his ethical and spending missteps, including the awarding of pay raises to top aides, luxury travel accommodations, his below-market rental agreement with the wife of an energy lobbyist, and the installation of a secure phone booth.
Pruitt insisted he had “nothing to hide” and the allegations were based on “half-truths” from those who “want to derail” the President’s deregulatory agenda.
The EPA has said the trip to Morocco was legitimate and a chance for Pruitt to talk about the countries free-trade agreement and benefits of natural gas imports. The agency told The Post, it did not know of Smotkin’s ties to the country’s government.
Left-leaning environmental groups have been calling for Pruitt’s ouster and said the totality of revelations about Pruitt’s mismanagement show his time should be up.
“Yet again, Scott Pruitt is proven to hold the American taxpayers in contempt as he wastes their money pretending to be a globetrotting government official when, in reality, he’s just parading around on behalf of his lobbyist friends’ interests,” said Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, a non-profit environmental organization. “Scott Pruitt has become indefensible for Donald Trump, and he must be fired.”
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