Former top EPA official: Scott Pruitt engaged in "unethical and potentially illegal actions"

A blistering letter from Democratic lawmakers demanded Pruitt turn over all materials related to the alleged abuses

By Charlie May
Published April 12, 2018 5:00PM (EDT)
Scott Pruitt (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Scott Pruitt (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt directed staffers on several occasions to book expensive hotels against U.S. Embassy recommendations, and insisted on flying on an airline not approved by the government in order to earn frequent flier miles, a former top deputy of his alleged in a statement to congressional investigators.

The allegations, made by the agency's former deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, are merely the latest against Pruitt, who has repeatedly come under fire for unethical actions and taxpayer abuse. His allegations revealed both new details and corroborated information that had previously been reported.

The accusations became public in a letter to Pruitt and President Donald Trump on Thursday, which was sent by Democratic lawmakers in the House and the Senate who requested he turn over all related documents that would verify the allegations.

"The new information provided by Mr. Chmielewski, if accurate, leaves us certain that your leadership at EPA has been fraught with numerous and repeated unethical and potentially illegal actions on a wide range of consequential matters that you and some members of your staff directed," the letter read.

Pruitt, who still owns a home in Oklahoma where he was the state's attorney general before his EPA appointment, insisted that staffers find him "something to do" so he could spend weekends there, Chmielewski told lawmakers.

In planning trips to Italy and Australia, Chmielewski alleged that Pruitt "refused to stay at hotels recommended by the US. Embassy, although, the recommended hotel had law enforcement and other US. resources on-site."

Instead, Pruitt "chose to stay instead at more expensive hotels with fewer standard security resources, and to bring your security team with you, at taxpayer expense," according to the letter.

The EPA brass also refused to fly airlines other than Delta, despite the fact that Delta was "not the federal government's contract carrier for the route" so that way Pruitt could "accrue more frequent flyer miles."

"Mr. Chmielewski said he observed that your travel destinations are often dictated by your desire to visit particular cities or countries rather than official business, and that you tell your staff to "find me something to do [in those locations]?" to justify the use of taxpayer funds," the letter detailed.

Chmielewski, a supporter and campaign aide to Trump, said he was marginalized at the agency as a result of his pushback against Pruitt. He alleged to congressional investigators that every time he tried to find out about something, he would get in trouble. Chmielewski has since been on unpaid leave.

"He [Chmielewksi] said that he watched as others were punished, demoted, and retaliated against when they tried to resist inappropriate directions that came from you or through your favored staff.

The letter was by Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, as well as Democratic Representatives Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Gerald Connolly of Virginia and Don Beyer of Virginia.

A separate letter sent by Carper and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Tuesday requested that the EPA's Office of Inspector General investigate at least four email accounts reportedly used by Pruitt. "We respectfully request that you open an investigation into whether he is complying with the Federal Records Act and Records Management Policy when using these accounts," the letter read.

It continued, "Since early 2017, the EPA has received thousands of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the public asking for email records, including those from Administrator Pruitt. With the use of multiple secret email accounts or addresses, we are concerned that the Office of the Administrator may be withholding information from the public in violation of valid FOIA requests."

Revelations about Pruitt's "unethical and potentially illegal actions" exemplify a recurring pattern of blatant abuse and corruption from within the Trump administration. Several top administration officials have been caught abusing taxpayer funds or engaging in other unethical actions. One of the key themes of Trump's campaign was his repeated promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington D.C., but it's evident that staffers across his administration have conducted themselves in the exact opposite fashion.

Charlie May

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