Trump Told Embattled EPA Chief ‘We’ve Got Your Back,’ Official SaysBy and
Pruitt faces criticism over condo rented from lobbyist’s wife
Lawmakers seek information on Pruitt’s housing arrangement
President Donald Trump called his embattled environmental chief Monday to assure him his job is safe amid mounting scrutiny of Scott Pruitt’s travel, hiring practices and an unorthodox condo rental arrangement last year, according to two administration officials.
The president told Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to "keep your head up" and "keep fighting," because the White House has "got your back" said one of the officials, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters. That message was reinforced by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in a telephone call to Pruitt on Tuesday morning.
Pruitt didn’t respond to questions from reporters at an event Tuesday morning in Washington. When asked about Pruitt before meeting with Baltic leaders later Tuesday, Trump said, "I hope he’s going to be great."
Pruitt has been under fire over revelations that he rented a Capitol Hill condo from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist whose firm has clients regulated by the EPA. The unconventional lease terms permitted Pruitt to pay $50 only on days his bedroom in the unit was actually occupied -- with a total of $6,100 in payments over a roughly six-month period last year.
An EPA ethics adviser said the rental arrangement met federal guidelines and didn’t violate a gift ban. Vicki Hart, the condo’s co-owner, is a health care lobbyist; her husband J. Steven Hart, the president of Williams & Jensen, said he hasn’t personally lobbied the EPA this year or last.
Still, the disclosure, coming on top of existing probes of Pruitt’s reliance on first-class flights and frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma, has spurred bipartisan calls for further investigations and even the EPA administrator’s resignation.
Pruitt’s "corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers," Representative Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican from Florida, said in a post on Twitter Tuesday. "It’s time for him to resign or for @POTUS to dismiss him."
Republicans and Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested information on Pruitt’s housing situation. On Tuesday, Democrats in the Senate and House also joined watchdog groups in asking the EPA’s inspector general to scrutinize the rental arrangement.
"If the below-market lease was given to Administrator Pruitt with the intent to curry favor with him on an issue important to lobbyists Mr. and Mrs. Hart, then it could also be a violation of" law, Representatives Ted W. Lieu of California and Don Beyer of Virginia wrote in a letter to the inspector general released Tuesday.
Separately, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, pressed the inspector general to probe the condo rental, including any concessions given to Pruitt, whether security officials stayed on site and whether there was any internal EPA vetting of the deal.
Meanwhile, The Atlantic, citing a source it didn’t identify, reported Tuesday that Pruitt last month used a provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to boost the salaries of two aides by tens of thousands of dollars after the White House refused to go along with raises he had proposed.
Free-market conservatives who look to Pruitt as a crusader pushing to upend Obama-era regulations on climate change and car pollution have been nonplussed.
"We’re focused on supporting the policy agenda" -- and not the news reports about Pruitt, said Myron Ebell, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Helping to insulate Pruitt is that "he is at the forefront of implementing the president’s agenda."
Republican energy strategist Mike McKenna called the revelations "pretty small beer even by the ridiculously low standards of Washington.”
“If he doesn’t weather this," McKenna said, "no one is ever going to take another job in Washington."
— With assistance by Ari Natter, and Justin Sink