EPA’s top ethics official has referred additional allegations against Administrator Scott Pruitt to agency investigators, potentially widening the inquiries into whether Pruitt used his public office for personal gain.
Kevin Minoli, the designated ethics official for EPA, disclosed last week in a letter obtained by E&E News that he had passed on recent reports of Pruitt’s ethics troubles to the agency’s internal watchdog.
“Since your letter in April, additional potential issues regarding Mr. Pruitt have come to my attention through sources within EPA and media reports,” Minoli said in the letter to David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics.
“Consistent with my obligations under Office of Government Ethics regulations, I have referred a number of those matters to EPA’s Inspector General and have provided ’ready and active assistance’ to the Inspector General and his office.”
Apol has already said that alleged actions by Pruitt at EPA could have violated ethics laws. In a letter to the EPA IG last month, he cited reports about Pruitt’s use of agency staff to search for housing, tasking his security detail to perform personal errands and using agency resources to help find work for his wife.
In his letter to OGE, Minoli pointed to Apol’s correspondence with the inspector general, saying he’s also aware of those new allegations against Pruitt.
“Several of those matters were also included in your recent letter to the EPA Inspector General. To the best of my knowledge, all of the matters that I have referred are either under consideration for acceptance or under active investigation,” Minoli said in the letter, which was reported on first by The New York Times.
Asked for comment on Minoli’s letter, an EPA IG spokesman would only say that the watchdog office had received requests from lawmakers to investigate recent allegations against Pruitt.
“At this point, I can only confirm that we’ve received congressional requests regarding the issues described in your story, and those matters are being considered for review by the OIG,” said EPA IG spokesman Jeff Lagda.
An EPA spokesman said Minoli’s letter describes how the agency cooperates with the IG.
“Part of the remainder of the letter discusses cooperation with the OIG, a normal course of business for any agency, and the entire EPA is always responsive to the OIG and their requests for information,” said the spokesman.
Apol has expressed concern before about Pruitt’s ethics troubles.
Pruitt has been swamped in ethics allegations, prompting him to set up a legal defense fund. The EPA chief is facing multiple investigations into his pricey travel, beefed-up security and his rental of a Capitol Hill condo linked to a lobbyist whose firm’s clients had interests before the agency, among other issues.
In March, Minoli drafted a memo that suggested Pruitt’s lease of the condo for $50 a night was in line with federal ethics rules. Days later, Minoli wrote a second memo that said he was missing "factual information" during his initial review (Greenwire, April 5).
In addition, Steven Hart, the former chairman of Williams & Jensen PLLC, whose wife was Pruitt’s landlord, had contacted EPA officials on behalf of several of his clients. Earlier statements from Hart and Pruitt had indicated that the lobbyist had no business with the agency.
Minoli’s letter to OGE also addresses other concerns, including staffing for EPA’s ethics office. He said he has sought to add more staff to the office to help with its growing workload.
“These additional staff positions will double the staff positions on the team and far exceed any previous staffing level for the [Office of General Counsel] Ethics Office,” Minoli said.
“These additional resources will focus on expanding the availability of ethics officials to provide ethics advice and increasing the support and oversight of [deputy ethics officials] across EPA.”
The EPA spokesman said the staffing boost was needed to help review paperwork for incoming administration officials.
“The letter reports back to the OGE on a number of administrative and staffing issues, some of which predate the Trump administration. The agency has taken early steps to address some of the concerns the OGE raised well before this letter was sent last week, including the hiring of two additional ethics officials and ongoing ethics training and retraining for EPA staff,” said the spokesman.
“Assigning new ethics staff within the OGC was necessary especially at the beginning of the new administration to evaluate recusals, disclosures and other ethics reviews involved in hiring new political appointees.”
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.