STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

EPA Administrator Pruitt Faces Questioning From Rep. Walden's Comittee

Lawmakers grilled Pruitt over some of his dubious financial choices since joining the agency.

Posted: Apr 26, 2018 4:38 PM
Updated: Apr 26, 2018 4:51 PM

By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and MICHAEL BIESECKER , Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, yet another Trump administration official with his job on the line over ethical concerns, took heat from lawmakers Thursday over his profligate spending and lobbyist ties and tried to divert responsibility to underlings.

The EPA administrator said "twisted" allegations against him were meant to undermine the administration's anti-regulatory agenda, and he denied knowing details of some of the extraordinary spending done on his behalf at the agency.

The public grilling at back-to-back House hearings, called formally to consider EPA's budget, came as support has appeared to erode for Pruitt among fellow Republicans after revelations about unusual security spending, first-class flights, a sweetheart condo lease and more. Even Republicans who heartily support Pruitt's policy agenda said his apparent lapses had to be scrutinized.

Democrats excoriated him.

"You are unfit to hold public office," said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

"You've become the poster child for the abuse of public trust," said Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland.

Although most of the Republican lawmakers at the hearings rallied around Pruitt, reviews were mixed. Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, chairman of the first panel that questioned Pruitt, said afterward the EPA chief was "a little vague," adding, "It's never a good idea to blame your staff in public."

Asked whether Pruitt should resign, he said that's not his call and suggested that's up to President Donald Trump.

Thursday's hearings were Pruitt's first major appearance since a Fox News interview in early April that was widely considered to be disastrous within the West Wing.

Before Congress, the administrator demonstrated his background as a lawyer, giving clipped answers and sticking to repeating rehearsed talking points.

He visibly bristled on occasion as Democrats pressed about the many financial allegations against him, then relaxed when Republicans on the panel gave him openings to expand on his policy steps at EPA.

Mocking Pruitt's opponents, Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said that as far as the EPA chief's critics were concerned, "I think the greatest sin you've done is you've actually done what President Trump ran on."

"It's shameful that this day has turned into a personal attack," said GOP Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio.

Trump has stood by his EPA chief, but behind closed doors, White House officials concede Pruitt's job is in serious jeopardy.

Pruitt has faced a steady trickle of revelations involving pricey trips in first-class seats and unusual security spending, including a $43,000 soundproof booth for making private phone calls. He also demanded 24-hour-a-day protection from armed officers, resulting in a 20-member security detail that blew through overtime budgets and racked up expenses approaching $3 million.

The EPA chief acknowledged under sharp questioning that he, in fact, knew something about huge pay raises given to two women on his staff — at least one of them a friend — after insisting weeks ago that he didn't approve the raises and didn't know who did. After that initial denial, documents showed EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson signed off on the raises and indicated he had Pruitt's consent.

Pruitt said Thursday he delegated authority to Jackson to give the raises but didn't know the exact amounts. Senior legal counsel Sarah Greenwalt received a raise of more than $66,000, bringing her salary to $164,200, and scheduling director Millian Hupp saw her salary jump from $48,000 to $114,590.

Under questioning, Pruitt appeared to acknowledge that Hupp helped him find accommodations in the capital but said her search apparently did not cost taxpayers. "I'm not aware of any government time being used," he said. "She is a friend."

As he has previously, Pruitt sought to deflect questions about any missteps by blaming subordinates.

— On the communications booth: "I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would not have approved it."

— On flying first class at taxpayer expense: "Security decisions at the agency are made by law enforcement personnel, and I have heeded their counsel."

— On the pay raises to the two women: "I was not aware of the amount provided or the process that was used in providing that."

At several points, he spoke of decisions made by "career individuals at the agency."

"You're the guy in charge," Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont countered. "It really seems like there's something on your desk with the motto: 'The buck stops nowhere.'"

Pruitt drew an unusual rebuke from EPA's inspector general, Arthur Elkins, while he was still testifying. In a statement, Elkins said he never signed off on an internal review of security threats that Pruitt cited at the hearing to explain why he needed unusual arrangements for his safety.

Elkins said the summary was prepared by Patrick Sullivan, an assistant inspector general, and "leaked without authorization."

Pruitt read aloud from two security threats, one from a man, apparently in India, who tweeted that he planned to shoot Pruitt.

Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota was unmoved, saying: "We all receive threats on our Facebook page."

The same document Pruitt cited also recounted similar threats against Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who routinely flew in coach and didn't require full-time protection.

Pruitt's troubles began in earnest last month, when ABC News first reported he had leased a Capitol Hill condo last year for just $50 a night that was co-owned by the wife of a veteran fossil fuels lobbyist whose firm had sought regulatory rollbacks from EPA.

Both Pruitt and the lobbyist, Steven Hart, denied he had conducted any recent business with EPA. But Hart was forced to admit last week he had met with Pruitt at EPA headquarters last summer after his firm, Williams & Jensen, revealed he had lobbied the agency on a required federal disclosure form.

Asked Thursday whether he had received any other gifts from lobbyists seeking favors from EPA, Pruitt replied, "I'm not aware of any instances."

___

Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 174501

Reported Deaths: 2460
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah34800568
Washington23412229
Marion20116299
Clackamas15311204
Lane11554144
Jackson9904127
Umatilla796883
Deschutes708272
Linn414263
Yamhill408775
Klamath345259
Polk342952
Malheur342758
Josephine305462
Douglas304365
Benton273218
Jefferson206432
Coos196831
Columbia153826
Union141124
Lincoln129820
Wasco128928
Hood River112429
Morrow107915
Clatsop8918
Crook87819
Baker85614
Curry5939
Tillamook5803
Lake4137
Grant4064
Harney3056
Wallowa1575
Sherman570
Gilliam561
Wheeler251
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3716579

Reported Deaths: 60994
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles122864123628
Riverside2972154525
San Bernardino2945774550
San Diego2748113674
Orange2688694891
Santa Clara1169712013
Kern1078251322
Sacramento1010581646
Fresno1005001643
Alameda852561477
Ventura802301000
San Joaquin714311334
Contra Costa66927782
Stanislaus603831028
Tulare49383830
Monterey43267357
San Mateo41107560
San Francisco35993517
Santa Barbara33863446
Solano31875239
Merced31196452
Sonoma29679311
Imperial27962719
Kings22766245
Placer21751283
San Luis Obispo20917256
Madera16250239
Santa Cruz15554204
Marin13860226
Yolo13559199
Shasta11677217
Butte11549196
El Dorado9719109
Napa965479
Sutter9268109
Yuba609844
San Benito598263
Lassen566924
Tehama543056
Nevada444775
Tuolumne406664
Mendocino398747
Amador362151
Humboldt358737
Lake340643
Glenn235525
Colusa219816
Calaveras205551
Siskiyou194021
Inyo141738
Del Norte12747
Mono12734
Plumas6906
Modoc4884
Mariposa4247
Trinity3985
Sierra1100
Alpine880
Unassigned330
Medford
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 82°
Brookings
Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 45°
Medford
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 82°
Medford
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 82°
Klamath Falls
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 73°
Still pretty warm Monday
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events