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EPA watchdog closes two probes into Scott Pruitt’s conduct, citing his resignation

The agency’s inspector general calls inquiries into his condo rental deal with a lobbyist and job search for his wife ‘inconclusive.’

Scott Pruitt, at the time the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment in April. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General has closed two probes into Scott Pruitt’s conduct when he was EPA chief without reaching any conclusions because he resigned as administrator before he could be interviewed, according to a report the agency submitted to Congress on Thursday. The investigations focused on Pruitt’s use of staff members for personal purposes and a condo rental deal he made with a lobbyist.

The office did not make a finding as to whether Pruitt violated federal law, according to its semiannual report, saying in each case that “the result of the investigation was inconclusive.”

Pruitt, who stepped down from his post in July in the face of multiple investigations into his spending and management practices, came under scrutiny for a variety of possible conflicts of interest. In the case of the housing agreement, Pruitt paid just $50 a night — and only when he was in town — for the Capitol Hill condo owned by lobbyist Vicki Hart.

Hart’s husband, J. Steven Hart, is the former chairman of the firm Williams & Jensen. He lobbied the EPA during Pruitt’s tenure, despite initially saying he did not do so in 2017 or 2018. Hart, who announced his retirement in April, contacted Pruitt’s staff on behalf of Coca-Cola, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, and Smithfield Foods, according to disclosure forms filed by his former law firm. Williams & Jensen eventually amended its lobbying disclosure reports for seven of Hart’s clients to correct the record.

Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act also show that Hart contacted Pruitt’s chief of staff to encourage the EPA to hire a family friend. The person ultimately was not hired.

In interviews with The Washington Post and other media in the spring, Hart said he did not lobby the agency in either 2017 or 2018. But The Post and other outlets reported that Hart had helped line up a meeting between Pruitt and a Smithfield Foods executive vice president, who was acting as a representative of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Hart and Smithfield Foods said the meeting was not tied to official company business.

The second inspector general inquiry focused on several allegations, according to the report, most of which were first reported in The Post. They include having “subordinates at the EPA assist him in finding personal housing; that he used his official position and EPA staff to seek a ‘business opportunity’ for his wife with Chick-fil-A; that he initiated subordinates at the EPA to secure a mattress for his personal use; and that he had his security detail run errands for him.”

In both inquires, the office said, it interviewed witnesses and reviewed records. However, it noted: “Mr. Pruitt resigned prior to being interviewed by investigators. For that reason, the OIG deemed that the result of the investigation was inconclusive.”

The Office of Inspector General does not have subpoena power to interview officials after they have left government service, though they can choose to cooperate voluntarily.

On Friday morning, two senators who had pressed the agency to investigate Pruitt’s alleged conflicts said the inspector general “should do all it can to make sure we never see behavior like this at EPA again.”

“Scott Pruitt set a new bar for unethical behavior by a Trump cabinet official, and that’s saying a lot,” Sens. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a joint statement. “We appreciate the problems of investigating Pruitt’s abject abuse of government position once he’s fled EPA, but walking away leaves the full story of what took place in EPA’s highest position untold.”

The EPA’s inspector general also dismissed as false the allegations that agency ethics officials felt pressured to sign off on Pruitt’s Capitol Hill housing arrangements.

“Investigators interviewed potential victims, who stated that they did not feel pressured into rendering opinions pertaining to the lodging arrangement,” the report states. “A review of records showed nothing of investigative merit supporting the allegations. The allegation was not supported.”

The new report also identified nine instances in which individuals had made “potentially threatening” comments about Pruitt in either emails, postcards or social media posts, but the inspector general determined in each instance that there was no credible threat. Pruitt and his chief security officer had cited such threats as justification for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail and first-class travel.