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Former Pruitt aide alleges wasteful spending, extravagant travel by EPA chief

EPA chief Scott Pruitt listens to President Trump speak to the media before a meeting with his Cabinet this week. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

A former senior aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has given congressional investigators a detailed list of what he describes as Pruitt’s wasteful spending and unethical behavior, according to a letter signed Thursday by Democrats in both houses of Congress.

Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign aide who until recently served as Pruitt’s deputy chief of staff for operations, told congressional staffers that Pruitt routinely pushed for unjustified expenditures on his travel, lodging and changes to his office, and that he marginalized employees who questioned his directives.

The allegations are included in a letter to Pruitt sent Thursday by five Democrats in the House and Senate, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) and Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del).

EPA officials previously have dismissed Chmielewski as one of a group of “disgruntled” employees who were dismissed or reassigned. Chmielewski has said he was removed from his position and placed on administrative leave after refusing to approve inappropriate expenditures.

“We will respond to Members of Congress through the proper channel,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement Thursday.

Many of Chmielewski’s assertions have previously been reported, but his allegations against Pruitt — which stretch on for several pages — offer a firsthand accounting of what he saw behind closed doors at the EPA.

Chmielewski claims that Pruitt often chose travel destinations based on a desire to visit particular cities or countries rather than official business, according to the letter. He said Pruitt also directed staffers to book flights on Delta, even when it was “not the federal government’s contract carrier for the route,” in order to accrue more frequent flier miles. He also said Pruitt routinely asked his staff to “find reasons” for the administrator to travel to Oklahoma, so that he could then remain in his home state for long weekends, often at taxpayer expense.

In addition, Chmielewski claimed that Pruitt “frequently stayed in hotels that exceeded the allowable U.S. government per diem,” and that while planning trips to Italy and Australia — the latter trip was canceled — Pruitt refused to stay at hotels recommended by the U.S. Embassy, even though the hotels suggested by embassy officials “had law enforcement and other U.S. resources on site.”

A current EPA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly, said Pruitt had pushed to stay in a boutique hotel in Australia but not in Italy, as Chmielewski has told investigators.

Pruitt repeatedly opted to stay in Sofitel chain hotels both domestically and overseas, according to multiple aides, even when those costs exceeded the allowed government per diem.

Chmielewski also claimed that Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, was excluded from scheduling meetings about the EPA leader’s travel after raising concerns about his expenditures, according to the letter.

Chmielewski’s allegations extend to a series of other questions about spending and management decisions for which Pruitt is facing scrutiny. He said the EPA administrator far exceeded the amount allowed on alterations to his office, including refinishing a desk and purchasing another one and ordering a custom-built soundproof phone booth for $43,000.

He also asserted that Pruitt had a trusted aide, Millan Hupp, “act as a personal real estate representative” and directed Hupp to look into a possible $100,000-per-month private jet lease, an idea that was ultimately dropped. Chmielewski also said Pruitt was in favor of steep raises given to Hupp and another aide, despite the lack of White House approval.

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