Thursday July 2nd, 2020 5:32AM

AP reports EPA's Pruitt spent millions on security, travel

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.

Altogether, the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member full-time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessor's part-time security contingent.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox cited "unprecedented" threats against Pruitt and his family as justification for extraordinary security expenses such as first-class airfare to keep him separate from most passengers — a perk generally not available to federal employees.

But Pruitt apparently did not consider that upgrade vital to his safety when taxpayers weren't footing the bill for his ticket. An EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt's security spending said the EPA chief flew coach on personal trips back to his home state of Oklahoma.

The EPA official spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

New details in Pruitt's expansive spending for security and travel emerged from agency sources and documents reviewed by The Associated Press. They come as the embattled EPA leader fends off allegations of profligate spending and ethical missteps that have imperiled his job.

Shortly after arriving in Washington, Pruitt demoted the career staff member heading his security detail and replaced him with EPA Senior Special Agent Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who operates a private security company.

The EPA official knowledgeable about Pruitt's security spending says Perrotta oversaw a rapid expansion of the EPA chief's security detail to accommodate guarding him day and night, even on family vacations and when Pruitt was home in Oklahoma.

Perrotta also signed off on new procedures that let Pruitt fly first-class on commercial airliners, with the security chief typically sitting next to him with other security staff farther back in the plane. Pruitt's premium status gave him and his security chief access to VIP airport lounges.

The EPA official said there are legitimate concerns about Pruitt's safety, given public opposition to his rollbacks of anti-pollution measures.

But Pruitt's ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Pruitt traveled to California for a family vacation.

The EPA official said total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.

Wilcox said Pruitt has faced an unprecedented number of death threats against him and his family and "Americans should all agree that members of the President's cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats."

A nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Pruitt. EPA's press office did not respond Friday to provide details of any specific threats or arrests.

Pruitt has said his use of first-class airfare was initiated following unpleasant interactions with other travelers. In one incident, someone yelled a profanity as he walked through the airport.

But on weekend trips home for Sooners football games, when taxpayers weren't paying for his ticket, the EPA official said Pruitt flew coach.

The source said Pruitt sometimes used a companion pass obtained with frequent flyer miles accumulated by Ken Wagner, a former law partner whom Pruitt hired as a senior adviser at EPA at a salary of more than $172,000. Taxpayers still covered the airfare for the administrator's security detail.

Walter Shaub, who until last year ran the federal Office of Government Ethics, said it is a potential ethics violation for Pruitt to accept the airline tickets, even if Wagner didn't pay cash for them. Federal officials are barred from accepting gifts from employees that have a market value of more than $10.

"It would be a very serious ethics problem, indeed, if Pruitt accepted airline tickets from a subordinate," Shaub said.

The EPA administrator has come under intense scrutiny for ethics issues and outsized spending. Among the concerns: massive raises for two of closest aides and his rental of a Capitol Hill condo tied to a lobbyist who represents fossil fuel clients.

At least three congressional Republicans and a chorus of Democrats have called for Pruitt's ouster. But President Donald Trump is so far standing by him.

A review of Pruitt's ethical conduct by White House officials is underway, adding to probes by congressional oversight committees and EPA's inspector general.

Pruitt, 49, was closely aligned with the oil and gas industry as Oklahoma's state attorney general before being tapped by Trump. Trump has praised Pruitt's relentless efforts to scrap, delay or rewrite Obama-era environmental regulations. He also has championed budget cuts and staff reductions at the agency so deep that even Republican budget hawks in Congress refused to implement them.

EPA's press office has refused to disclose the cost of Pruitt's security or the size of his protective detail, saying doing so could imperil his personal safety.

But other sources within EPA and documents released through public information requests help provide a window into the ballooning costs.

In his first three months in office, before pricey overseas trips to Italy and Morocco, the price tag for Pruitt's security detail hit more than $832,000, according to EPA documents released through a public information request.

Nearly three dozen EPA security and law enforcement agents were assigned to Pruitt, according to a summary of six weeks of weekly schedules obtained by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Those schedules show multiple EPA security agents accompanied Pruitt on a family vacation to California that featured a day at Disneyland and a New Year's Day football game where his home state Oklahoma Sooners were playing in the Rose Bowl. Multiple agents also accompanied Pruitt to a baseball game at the University of Kentucky and at his house outside Tulsa, during which no official EPA events were scheduled.

Pruitt's predecessor, Gina McCarthy, had a security detail that numbered about a half dozen, less than a third the size of Pruitt's. She flew coach and was not accompanied by security during her off hours, like on weekend trips home to Boston.

Pruitt was accompanied by nine aides and a security detail during a trip to Italy in June that cost more than $120,000. He visited the U.S. Embassy in Rome and took a private tour of the Vatican before briefly attending a meeting of G-7 environmental ministers in Bologna.

Private Italian security guards hired by Perrotta helped arrange an expansive motorcade for Pruitt and his entourage, according to the EPA official with direct knowledge of the trip. The source described the Italian additions as personal friends of Perrotta, who joined Pruitt and his EPA staff for an hours-long dinner at an upscale restaurant.

Perrotta's biography, on the website of his company, Sequoia Security Group, says that during his earlier stint with the Secret Service he worked with the Guardia di Finanza, the Italian finance police.

The EPA spent nearly $9,000 last year on increased counter-surveillance precautions for Pruitt, including hiring a private contractor to sweep his office for hidden listening devices and installing sophisticated biometric locks for the doors. The payment for the bug sweep went to a vice president at Perrotta's security company.

The EPA official who spoke to AP said Perrotta also arranged the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for Pruitt's office.

At least five EPA officials were placed on leave, reassigned or demoted after pushing back against spending requests such as a $100,000-a-month private jet membership, a bulletproof vehicle and $70,000 for furniture such as a bulletproof desk for the armed security officer always stationed inside the administrator's office suite.

Those purchases were not approved. But Pruitt got an ornate refurbished desk comparable in grandeur to the one in the Oval Office.

Among the officials who faced consequences for resisting such spending was EPA Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer who was placed on unpaid administrative leave this year.

The prior head of Pruitt's security detail, Eric Weese, was demoted last year after he refused Pruitt's demand to use the lights and sirens on his government-owned SUV to get him through Washington traffic to the airport and dinner reservations.


Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Football, AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, College Sports, AP Business, AP Sports - College Football
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
The Latest: Merkel offers condolences to Muenster victims
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is "deeply shocked by the terrible events in Muenster."
2:11PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Senate rivals try to score points on Messer campaign commute
Indiana Senate candidate Luke Messer faces logistical difficulties as he tries to balance family life in the Washington, D.C., area with running a high-stakes campaign back in Indiana
2:08PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Northern California drenched by 'Pineapple Express' storm
Northern California was drenched by a powerful "Pineapple Express" storm that flooded roadways, forced flight cancellations and caused a rare baseball rainout
2:03PM ( 23 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Youth hockey team captain among 14 dead in crash
The captain of a junior hockey team is among the 14 people killed in a bus crash in western Canada
1:24PM ( 1 hour ago )
Davis Cup: Germany beats Spain in doubles, leads 2-1
Germany pair Tim Puetz and Jan-Lennard Struff held off Spain's Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez in five sets to take a 2-1 lead in the Davis Cup quarterfinals
1:16PM ( 1 hour ago )
Vettel takes pole position for Bahrain GP ahead of Raikkonen
Sebastian Vettel takes pole position for Bahrain Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen
1:08PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Sports
AP sources: EPA chief spent millions on security and travel
AP sources: EPA chief Scott Pruitt's concern with personal security came at a steep cost to taxpayers
5:17AM ( 9 hours ago )
Marines killed in California crash include new dad, Iraq vet
Four Marines killed when their helicopter crashed on a training mission in the Southern California desert have been identified as men in their 20s and 30s from the South and the Midwest.
10:09PM ( 1 day ago )
The eagle has landed ... on James Paxton's shoulder
The eagle has landed, on James Paxton's shoulder, in confused pregame routine at Twins home opener
9:18PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online Football
Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas facing tornado and wildfire threats
Emergency officials in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas are bracing for the start of what's historically the most active time of year for tornadoes while also facing wildfire threats because of severe drought conditions
1:33PM ( 53 minutes ago )
The Latest: German police search home of deadly van driver
A leading German newspaper is reporting that authorities believe there is no terrorist motive behind the deadly van crash in Muenster and the driver is believed to be a middle-aged German man with psychological issues
1:19PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Police check reports of others in Muenster van
__German police say they are checking witness reports that other perpetrators may have fled from a van that crashed into a crowd in Muenster, killing three people and injuring 20 before its driver shot himself to death
1:02PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Vehicle crashes into German crowd, leaves 3 dead, 20 injured
Police in the western German city of Muenster say a vehicle has crashed into a crowd there, killing several people and injuring others
12:27PM ( 1 hour ago )
White House sends mixed signals on trade fight; markets dive
President Donald Trump's treasury secretary says he's "cautiously optimistic" that the U.S. and China could reach an agreement before any tariffs go into place
12:25PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Merkel offers condolences to victims of crash
A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel says "our thoughts are with the victims and their families" who were killed and injured when a vehicle crashed into a crowd in the western German city of Muenster
11:49AM ( 2 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Rep. Cramer: US direction, soul at stake in Senate contest
North Dakota Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer is telling party activists that "the direction of the nation and the soul of the Senate" is at stake in his contest to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
1:36PM ( 51 minutes ago )
AP News Guide: The ongoing teacher protest in Oklahoma
Oklahoma teachers are expected to enter a second week of massive demonstrations pushing state lawmakers to increase education funding
12:13PM ( 2 hours ago )
Trade dispute between Trump, China grows as markets tumble
President Donald Trump and China's government are escalating their trade dispute.
5:07AM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Philadelphia to cheer NCAA champs Villanova with parade
Philadelphia is getting the chance to celebrate yet another sports championship with a parade, this time for Villanova University's Wildcats
12:02AM ( 2 days ago )
WNBA coaches, GMs tab A'ja Wilson for top pick in mock draft
A'ja Wilson likely first pick in the WNBA draft next week, according to panel of coaches and general managers
9:53AM ( 3 days ago )
Raptors-Celtics, Cavs-76ers are big East games this week
Philadelphia wants to open its first playoff series at home
9:43AM ( 3 days ago )
College Sports
Gaza buries journalist killed after covering mass protests
Hundreds attend funeral of well-known Palestinian journalist in Gaza who was killed covering the mass protests along the Israel border
6:58AM ( 7 hours ago )
China applies its own maximum pressure policy on Pyongyang
President Donald Trump's policy of maximum pressure on North Korea may be working _ thanks to China
12:25AM ( 14 hours ago )
McGregor's UFC future in doubt in wake of felony charges
UFC star Conor McGregor was arraigned on charges of felony criminal mischief charges and misdemeanor assault, menacing and reckless endangerment charges following a backstage melee he sparked at a UFC event in New York City
10:26PM ( 16 hours ago )
AP Business
Villanova students gear up to welcome home NCAA champs
Students at Villanova University are gearing up to welcome home their men's basketball team, which is returning with its second NCAA championship in three years
12:37PM ( 4 days ago )
Believe the hype! Penn State tops Utah for NIT championship
Shep Garner hit the 3-pointer that brought cousin Flavor Flav to his feet and helped bring Penn State an NIT championship in an 82-66 win over Utah
10:41AM ( 1 week ago )
APNewsBreak: Key design change stymied bridge cost, schedule
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show construction of the pedestrian bridge that collapsed and killed six people in the Miami area was behind schedule and millions over budget
7:10PM ( 2 weeks ago )
AP Sports - College Football
The Latest: Merkel offers condolences to Muenster victims
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is "deeply shocked by the terrible events in Muenster."
2:11PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Senate rivals try to score points on Messer campaign commute
Indiana Senate candidate Luke Messer faces logistical difficulties as he tries to balance family life in the Washington, D.C., area with running a high-stakes campaign back in Indiana
2:08PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Northern California drenched by 'Pineapple Express' storm
Northern California was drenched by a powerful "Pineapple Express" storm that flooded roadways, forced flight cancellations and caused a rare baseball rainout
2:03PM ( 23 minutes ago )
Vehicle crashes into German bar crowd, kills 3, injures 20
A van crashed into a crowd outside a popular bar Saturday in the western German city of Muenster, killing three people and injuring 20 others before the driver of the vehicle killed himself
2:02PM ( 24 minutes ago )
Brazil's Lula to turn himself in to police, claims innocent
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva blasted critics and maintained his innocence while also saying he would turn himself in to police to begin serving a 12-year sentence
1:46PM ( 40 minutes ago )