The Republican head of the House oversight committee has requested interviews with aides to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, as well as a wave of new documents from the EPA, a day after a whistleblower publicly alleged numerous spending excesses and ethical lapses on the part of the embattled administrator.
In a letter Friday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), said his committee “recently became aware of new information” related to Pruitt’s travel practices, security arrangements and a $50-a-night condo rental last year from a Washington lobbyist. As a result, Gowdy requested a long list of additional records from Pruitt, including details of itineraries and travel receipts for trips last year to Italy and Morocco, memos related to the decision to provide a 24/7 security detail for the EPA chief and travel records for the head of Pruitt’s protective detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta.
In addition, Gowdy requested interviews with five of Pruitt’s aides: Perrotta; chief of staff Ryan Jackson; Millan Hupp and Sarah Greenwalt, longtime advisers for Pruitt who recently drew scrutiny after being approved for large raises; and Kevin Chmielewski, a former deputy chief of staff for operations.
Chmielewski, a former advance staffer for the Trump campaign, was the focus of a startling letter earlier this week to Pruitt from five Democrats in the House and Senate. In it, the lawmakers recounted alleged spending abuses by the EPA chief that Chmielewski had shared with them. They included stays in boutique hotels that exceeded spending caps, frequent trips home to Oklahoma that Pruitt charged to taxpayers and an insistence on flying Delta Air Lines whenever possible, even when it cost more, in an effort to maximize his frequent-flier miles.
Chmielewski’s allegations stretched for much of a six-page letter. Later, he also met with Republican staffers on Gowdy’s committee, resulting in Friday’s letter from the chairman.
The correspondence marked Gowdy’s second letter to Pruitt this week.
On Wednesday, the Republican oversight chairman had written to push for more answers from Pruitt about his first-class travels, and to say the committee plans to evaluate the $50-a-night rental the EPA head had with a lobbyist. In addition, Gowdy wrote that the EPA “has failed to produce all the documents” he requested in February related to Pruitt’s frequent first- and business-class flights, which The Washington Post had reported about in detail days earlier.
While the agency did turn over documents last month detailing nearly $68,000 in previously undisclosed travel costs for Pruitt during the seven months leading up to February, Gowdy said EPA officials have failed to produce the security waivers that Pruitt used to justify his purchase of premium tickets at taxpayer expense. EPA officials have said that various threats against Pruitt, including verbal public confrontations, led the head of his security detail to recommend that he fly in the front cabin of planes, to provide a “buffer” from the public and also so that he could board and exit more quickly.
On Friday, Gowdy gave Pruitt two weeks to respond to his latest batch of requests.
“We have responded to Chairman Gowdy’s inquiries and we will continue to work with him,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement Friday.
Between the EPA’s inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, Pruitt faces at least five inquiries into his actions. They include audits of his travel practices and the costs of his protective detail, his purchase of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth last year and his hiring practices under authority granted by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendment.