'I Don't Know How You Survive This One': Pruitt's Condo Scandal Could Be His Last
From premium airfare to round-the-clock security, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt's receipts have raised alarm bells before, but could his latest controversy be the last straw?
During television appearances Sunday, several lawmakers and former Trump officials condemned the industry-friendly EPA administrator's alleged $50-a-night deal at a D.C. townhouse co-owned by an energy lobbyist and his wife.
"I don't know how you survive this one, and if he has to go, it's because he never should have been there in the first place," former Republican New Jersey governor and Trump transition head Chris Christie said on ABC News' This Week.
He "may be on his way out," Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama also said on the same show.
"I think he's in real trouble," Jones added. "People are just frustrated with Cabinet members who seem to want to use taxpayer dollars to fund their own personal lifestyle."
On CBS's Face the Nation, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders said, "You got a guy who's head of the EPA now who is nothing more than a front man for the fossil fuel industry, and that is a very serious problem and the Congress has got to stand up and oppose that line of policy."
- Scott Pruitt worked directly with a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry and automakers to arrange a sweetheart deal on a townhouse co-owned by the lobbyist's wife in a high-priced D.C. neighborhood.
- The lobbyist—Steven Hart—is the head of the D.C. lobbying firm Williams and Jensen, which specifically lobbies the EPA on Clean Air Act policies, according to ABC. Hart represents Cheniere Energy, the company that owned the only operating Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) export plant in the U.S. at the time of Scott Pruitt's taxpayer-funded trip to Morocco where he advocated for LNG exports.
- Hart's firm also represents the American Automotive Policy Council, which includes automakers such as Ford, who lobbied Pruitt's forthcoming decision to roll back clean car standards.
- Pruitt reportedly paid for just one room in the otherwise unoccupied townhouse, and declined to tell ethics officials his adult daughter stayed in another room he was not paying for.
- Pruitt reportedly paid far below market value for the room he rented and ethics officials from both past Republican and Democratic administrations say he violated federal ethics rules for accepting gifts from lobbyists as a result, while ethics expert Norm Eisen noted the violations may "have crossed into criminal territory."
- Here is a map of AirBnB rates in the same neighborhood as the lobbyist's townhouse. Similar units cost up to $5,000 a month. Pruitt paid $6,100 for his entire six month stay.
- While living in the home, Hart continued to have dinner parties and functions, raising questions about whether political fundraisers were held in the house while Pruitt was there. Hart and his firm have donated more than $600,000 to political candidates this year.
- To top it off, Pruitt's security detail broke down the door of the townhouse concerned that Pruitt was unconscious. It turned out Pruitt was merely napping ... on a workday afternoon. The EPA reimbursed the lobbyist for the door, meaning he was likely paid with taxpayer dollars. (Speaking of taxpayer dollars—Pruitt has a habit of wasting money when he's not the one picking up the tab).
"This is not a simple conflict of interest—this is corruption, plan and simple," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. "Pruitt got a sweetheart deal from a fossil fuel lobbyist and then pushed the agenda of that lobbyist at the EPA and on taxpayer-funded international trips—and that's just the latest scandal."
Brune continued, "The fossil fuel lobbyists Pruitt is taking favors and marching orders from are telling him to throw out the safeguards that keep our air and water safe from their pollution, and our kids are at risk as a result. The only way for this non-stop deluge of scandals and negative headlines to stop is for Pruitt to be fired immediately."
Congressmen Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) had a similar opinion, tweeting directly at President Trump: "Republicans who don't believe in climate change and want to dismantle environmental protections are a dime a dozen. You don't need Scott Pruitt, who spent taxpayer dollars on first-class travel, violated ethics laws and is deeply paranoid. You should fire him."
Pruitt has not commented on the reports. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the arrangement.
"As EPA career ethics officials stated in a memo, Administrator Pruitt's housing arrangement for both himself and family was not a gift and the lease was consistent with federal ethics regulations," he told Reuters.
The memo, from EPA ethics official Kevin Minoli, said such arrangements were not considered "gifts" if a federal official pays market value for them.
"Under the terms of the lease, if the space was utilized for one 30-day month, then the rental cost would be $1,500, which is a reasonable market price," the memo said.
However, Reuters reported that local real estate websites show that the average market price for a similar property in the area is at least three times as much.
Walter Shaub, the former Office of Government ethics director who resigned in July after clashes with the Trump administration, called the memo "total baloney."
He tweeted, "You cannot get a whole place to yourself in that prime location for $1,500 a month, nor will you find anyone willing to hold the place open for you all month and charge you only for the nights you use it."