clearn.png
Monday October 14th, 2019 10:16PM

At hearings, EPA chief seeks to divert blame for ethics woes

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

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 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 on Thursday, convened 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 it'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 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," GOP Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio said.

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 did, in fact, know 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 his initial denial, documents emerged showing that EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson signed off on the raises and indicating 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 the office of EPA's inspector general, Arthur Elkins, while he was still testifying. A spokesman for Elkins, Kentia Elbaum, 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.

Elbaum said the summary was prepared by Patrick Sullivan, an assistant inspector general, and provided to Pruitt's security team but said it was later "leaked without authorization."

Pruitt read aloud from two security threats, one from a man who tweeted that he planned to shoot Pruitt. Investigators determined that the person who wrote the tweet "is currently believed to be living in India."

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

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Business
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Explosion rocks Wisconsin refinery, forcing evacuations
Authorities are evacuating a three-mile radius around a Wisconsin oil refinery where an explosion injured 11 people and sent a huge plume of noxious smoke billowing southward
5:58PM ( 4 minutes ago )
Funerals set for 2 of 4 slain in the Waffle House shooting
Funerals set for 2 of the 4 people killed in Tennessee's Waffle House shooting rampage; donations continue to pour in for the victims
5:46PM ( 17 minutes ago )
'The real Bill Cosby': Comedian convicted of sexual assault
Bill Cosby has been convicted of drugging and molesting a woman
5:44PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Suspect's brother-in-law stunned by arrest
James Huddle said he always hoped police would catch the culprit who terrorized Northern California and prompted him to buy a pistol
5:19PM ( 43 minutes ago )
The Latest: Reward offered in death of Maine deputy
The FBI is offering $20,000 for information leading to the arrest of a man sought in the killing of a deputy
5:16PM ( 46 minutes ago )
At hearings, EPA chief seeks to divert blame for ethics woes
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is taking heat from lawmakers over his profligate spending and lobbyist ties and trying to divert responsibility to underlings
5:13PM ( 49 minutes ago )
AP National News
'Busy' Trump admits he didn't get wife much for her birthday
It's Melania Trump's birthday, and President Donald Trump thinks he might be in a little trouble
4:36PM ( 1 hour ago )
Suspect in serial killings was obsessed with lawn care
Suspect in California serial killings was grandfather obsessed with lawn care
3:50PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: DA: TV network yanks 'Cosby Show' reruns
A TV network says it is yanking all reruns of "The Cosby Show" after Bill Cosby's conviction on sexual assault charges
3:41PM ( 2 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Trump's VA choice bows out in latest Cabinet flame-out
White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdraws from consideration as Veterans Affairs secretary, saying "false allegations" have become a distraction
5:13PM ( 49 minutes ago )
The Latest: EPA inspector general weighs in on Pruitt remark
The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general is taking issue with Administrator Scott Pruitt invoking an internal review of security threats to justify spending taxpayer money on first-class airfare
4:49PM ( 1 hour ago )
Senate candidate writes children's book trashing GOP rival
Indiana Senate candidate Todd Rokita authored a politically themed children's book trashing one of his Republican primary opponents
4:46PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Gun control may keep stock-car-racing governor off track
Following protests and outcry from gun rights advocates over his signing of gun restriction legislation, Vermont's stock car racing governor is questioning whether to race this season at a local speedway where many of the spectators are hunters.
3:16PM ( 2 hours ago )
Armenians rally against govt; lawmakers to vote on new PM
The Armenian parliament will vote next week to vote for a new prime minister, paving the way to end its political crisis
2:35PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Mike Pompeo is sworn in as secretary of state
Mike Pompeo has been sworn is as secretary of state
2:20PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Jury hits pork giant for $50M for hog operation's nuisance
A federal jury in North Carolina is awarding more than $50 million in damages to neighbors of an industrial hog operation responsible for smells, noise and other disturbances so bad they couldn't enjoy their rural homes
5:05PM ( 57 minutes ago )
Mattel's 1Q sales shored up by Hot Wheels and Barbie
Higher sales in Barbie and Hot Wheels soften blow from liquidation of Toys R Us
4:59PM ( 1 hour ago )
Facebook and big tech stocks rally as US indexes climb
US stocks are rising as a big gain for Facebook helps technology companies rally and other big companies including Alphabet, Microsoft and Amazon also jump
4:39PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
Explosion rocks Wisconsin refinery, forcing evacuations
Authorities are evacuating a three-mile radius around a Wisconsin oil refinery where an explosion injured 11 people and sent a huge plume of noxious smoke billowing southward
5:58PM ( 5 minutes ago )
'The real Bill Cosby': Comedian convicted of sexual assault
Bill Cosby has been convicted of drugging and molesting a woman
5:44PM ( 19 minutes ago )
The Latest: Suspect in killings may be tied to 1 more death
Central California police say the former police officer accused in a series of killings and rapes is also the prime suspect in the 1975 death of a community college teacher.
5:42PM ( 21 minutes ago )
The Latest: Cosby's alma mater to reconsider honorary degree
Temple University, Bill Cosby's alma mater, says it will reconsider an honorary degree awarded to the comedian more than two decades ago
5:30PM ( 33 minutes ago )
Nation's nastiest GOP primary playing out in Pence's Indiana
For a glimpse of red-state politics in the era of Donald Trump, look no further than Vice President Mike Pence's home state of Indiana, where a grueling GOP Senate race has been dubbed the nation's nastiest primary
5:28PM ( 34 minutes ago )