Three Senate Democrats asked the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general Thursday to probe whether agency chief Scott Pruitt received an improper gift from a top aide who conducted a housing search for him last year, citing new emails that show the staffer corresponded with a real estate agent during office hours on her agency email account.
The new emails, attached to a letter written by Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.), Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), detail how EPA director of scheduling and advance Millan Hupp worked with a private real estate agent in the summer to locate an apartment for Pruitt and his wife. The Washington Post first reported Hupp’s housing hunt in April; this month, the administrator acknowledged to a Senate committee that he had asked his staffer to look for apartments but said she did it “on personal time.”
“There are several regulations designed to prevent the misuse of taxpayer funds and to prevent a supervisor from misusing the time of or accepting an improper gift from a subordinate employee, whose salary is paid by American taxpayers,” the senators wrote. “Each of these regulations may have been violated by Mr. Pruitt or Ms. Hupp if the information obtained by our offices is correct.”
The lawmakers cite three different provisions in the federal government’s Code of Federal Regulation, including requirements that employees “use official time to perform their official duties”; that employees cannot use his or her official position “to coerce or induce anyone, including a subordinate” to provide “any benefit”; and that employees cannot give a superior “a gift,” which can include services.
The email correspondence between July 10 and Aug. 7, 2017, shows that both Hupp and another EPA political appointee, Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett, communicated with a Virginia-based real estate agent as part of a broader effort to locate housing for the administrator. Pruitt has lived in three apartments since joining President Trump’s administration, and in July, he was in the process of leaving a Capitol Hill condo owned by lobbyist Vicki Hart, who charged him $50 a night for each evening he stayed there. That rental agreement is under scrutiny by both the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the EPA inspector general.
Bennett introduced Hupp to Keller Williams Realty’s John Walker in July, telling Hupp “you will LOVE working with John. He knows everything about Capitol Hill-including both living on it as well as working there.”
Other emails show Hupp communicating with Walker at different times of the day — including in the late morning and early afternoon — on her agency email, to arrange discussions concerning Pruitt’s housing search.
Asked about the letter Thursday, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an email, “We are working diligently with EPA’s IG and are in full cooperation in providing them with the necessary documents and witnesses.”
Jennifer Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the EPA’s inspector general, said in an email that the office “just received this request and it will be reviewed by the inspector general and his senior leadership team. That is all we can say for now.”
During his testimony this month before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Pruitt referred to Hupp as “a longtime friend,” said that when it came to her assistance, “it’s my understanding that all activity there was on personal time.”
The Post independently confirmed in the spring that Hupp had contacted a District real estate firm and individual homeowners to view properties. Pruitt’s office boosted Hupp’s salary to $114,590 in March, then reversed the raise after it attracted public scrutiny.