Career officials at the Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about then-Administrator Scott Pruitt’s move to book an expensive plane ticket to Italy and the involvement of non-U.S. officials in planning his trip, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Hundreds of pages of new emails the EPA provided in recent weeks to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shed new light on the extent to which Pruitt’s personal preferences drove travel planning and created friction within the agency before he resigned earlier this month.
The committee’s probe is one of numerous investigations into Pruitt’s ethical and management decisions that have continued even after his departure. On Thursday, Democratic Sens. Thomas Carper (Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) urged EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr. “to complete all audits and investigations” into Pruitt’s conduct, citing new evidence to bolster their case.
Committee spokeswoman Amanda Thompson declined to comment on the new documents, writing in an email, “The Committee will wait until the conclusion of our investigation to release or comment on our findings.”
The former administrator’s Italy trip, which cost taxpayers at least $120,000, has attracted scrutiny because of its high price tag. The then-administrator spent just 24 hours on the ground in Bologna attending a summit of Group of Seven environment ministers, which was the stated purpose of the trip.
Emails from April 2017 chart how Pruitt and his wife, Marlyn, requested that aides book business-class tickets out of New York City to Rome on Delta Air Lines — Pruitt’s preferred carrier. In response, EPA travel coordinator Gail Davis questioned Pruitt’s need to sit in business class and travel out of New York City.
EPA officials initially explored whether Marlyn Pruitt could attend the trip as a member of the U.S. delegation to the G-7, according to three current and former agency staffers. In that case, the federal government would have covered her costs. But that option did not materialize, and she did not make the trip.
Davis, citing federal rules on when officials can travel in business class, wrote to then-deputy director for scheduling and advance Millan Hupp, “I cannot upgrade unless the flight is over  hours and no rest stop.”
Three days later, Davis informed Hupp, a political appointee, that if Pruitt went ahead and departed from New York but flew on American Airlines, the official government carrier, it would be much less expensive.
Davis used bold lettering to underscore the point that flying Delta out of John F. Kennedy Airport would cost about $3,000 more than flying American out of Washington.
“The Delta flight is a noncontract carrier and is ($4,690.96 coach class fare),” Davis wrote, adding that “there will of course need to be a justification for the $3,000 difference” and why the administrator would not leave from his “duty station.”
According to two individuals familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency deliberations, Pruitt wanted to depart from New York to travel on a nonstop Delta flight to Rome.
By the time Pruitt left for Italy in early June, the head of his protective detail had drafted a memo saying that he needed to fly in business or first class as a security precaution. As a result, Pruitt’s round-trip ticket to Italy cost $7,003.52. That price tag does not include the $36,068.50 military flight Pruitt took from Cincinnati to JFK Airport after attending an infrastructure event with President Trump right before his overseas trip. The military jet was approved at the time by ethics officials.
According to the new documents, a week before his departure, Pruitt’s security officials mapped out a much cheaper Delta itinerary from Cincinnati to Rome with a connection in Paris. The former administrator did not opt for that route.
Pruitt could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and the EPA declined to respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Carper and Whitehouse cited Pruitt’s push for more costly flights to Italy in their letter to Elkins, along with a text Pruitt sent to his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, informing him that he would restrict the number of aides scheduling his travel because he wanted “my personality, particularly with whom we meet, to be more reflected in the process.”
The new documents also highlight the integral role Leonard Leo played in orchestrating the Rome portion of Pruitt’s trip. Leo served as executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society until taking a temporary leave to advise Trump on Supreme Court nominations.
EPA staffers traded schedules with Leo’s aide, Maria Marshall, coordinating when the two men would be together. Numerous events on draft itineraries, including private Vatican tours and unannounced dining meetings, were labeled “arranged by Leonard Leo.” Among them: a private tour of the Vatican Library and the Scavi, a private mass, and multiple private meals at upscale restaurants.
None of the private tours and meals that Pruitt attended during his time in Rome were disclosed at the time by the EPA. References to Leo’s involvement were not included in the official calendar documents that the EPA later produced in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
In one instance in late May 2017, a representative at the U.S. Embassy in Rome wrote to EPA staffers: “Can someone reach out to Mr. Leo’s staff and get contact information? [Regional security officer] needs more details about the entrances we’ll use.”
Soon after, EPA Office of Regional and Bilateral Affairs Director Mark Kasman wrote to Hupp: “Millan, can you connect Mr. Leo’s staff to the Regional Security Officer in Rome to avoid any mishaps?”
In another instance, Marshall consulted with Hupp on the movements of Pruitt and his top aides, adding, “Can you please confirm the names of everyone attending the lunches, tours and dinners?”
“I will get you the attendee list for each event asap,” Hupp replied.
At one point, Pruitt’s appointees removed a career official from an email chain to make it clear they would “make significant changes” to the itineraries created by the career staff, as well as for a visit to Israel — a trip that later was canceled.
And on at least one occasion, Kasman insisted that U.S. officials be made aware of Pruitt’s gatherings with Leo in Rome — meetings to which Kasman and Jane Nishida, the head of the EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, were not invited.
“Leonard Leo’s assistant just sent this over,” Kevin Chmielewski, then the EPA’s deputy chief of staff for operations, wrote Kasman on May 11, the documents show. He attached an email from Leo’s assistant, in which she said she had “combined the two schedules” for Pruitt and Leo into a single document. “Your events are in red, mine are in black and questions are bold. Please advise.”
Kasman replied to Chmielewski, asking whether a certain private lunch involving Pruitt and Leo was still on. “If so,” he wrote, “we need to let the Embassy know.”
The events Leo arranged for Pruitt squeezed out official ones that U.S. Embassy staff had set up for the trip, including one with a group dedicated to removing Rome’s graffiti as well one focused on sustainable packaging.
“I know this is a blow for the Embassy team,” Kasman wrote in a May 31 email to U.S. Embassy staff, informing the group that Pruitt had opted to do a roundtable event with American business leaders instead of attending the sustainable packaging event. “Please let me know if there is anything Jane [Nishida] and I can do to help with damage control.”
The decision by Trump appointee Don Benton to provide Pruitt with a round-the-clock security detail from the first day he took office also worried EPA career officials, according to documents Carper and Whitehouse released Thurday. These staffers warned EPA’s senior White House adviser Don Benton in February 2017 that they wanted Pruitt to know the agency “lacks funds for this purpose, and there would be a detrimental impact on stopping environmental crimes.”
Pruitt maintained 24/7 protection during his time in office, but his successor, acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, has reverted to using the smaller security entourage used by EPA chiefs under both Democratic and Republican presidents over the last 15 years.
Carper and Whitehouse wrote Elkins that a failure to finish auditing all of the allegations that have been made against Pruitt “could result in a missed opportunity to identify systemic or process failures at EPA, as well as a failure to identify and appropriately respond to violations of law.”