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Pruitt, who also has enlisted agency staffers in tasks including apartment hunting and securing a mattress for his personal use, faces congressional scrutiny over an expanding number of spending and management decisions. Federal rules bar public officials from receiving gifts from subordinates, including unpaid services, and from using their office for private gain.
Asked about the specific errands his security detail ran on his behalf, the EPA issued only a brief statement Thursday. “Administrator Pruitt follows the same security protocol whether he’s in his personal or official capacity,” spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell said.
Since he became EPA chief in February 2017, Pruitt has received round-the-clock protection. The agency has defended such coverage as necessary because of an unprecedented number of threatening comments, such as one from a group that this week tweeted out his home address in Tulsa. But a recent letter from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and emails obtained by The Washington Post suggest Pruitt was more concerned about being shielded from public anger over the president’s policies.
EPA staffers also cited security concerns in explaining why Pruitt switched to flying first class after an individual approached him in an airport last year and used vulgar language. The administrator said he left decisions about his protective detail to his agents, though he returned to flying coach earlier this year.
The protective detail cost taxpayers nearly $3.5 million during Pruitt’s first year on the job, according to EPA data, and is roughly triple the size of those of his immediate predecessors.
While EPA security agents are required to protect Pruitt at all times — while he is working and during his off hours — the two individuals said the administrator had asked members of the detail to perform tasks that go beyond their primary function. In one instance, they said, he directed agents to drive him to multiple locations in search of a particular lotion on offer at Ritz-Carlton hotels.
One other occasions, they added, he asked agents to pick up his dry cleaning without him.
The top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), reiterated his call that Pruitt step down.
“Americans deserve an EPA administrator who will work to carry out the agency’s mission to protect the public’s health and our environment,” Carper said. “Instead, Mr. Pruitt is using this critical agency to do his personal bidding on the taxpayers’ dime. Americans are fed up. Enough is enough.”
Carper and fellow Senate Democrats Tom Udall (N.M.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) wrote the EPA inspector general on Thursday to request that he add to his current probes and examine Pruitt’s efforts last year to help his wife secure work, including a franchise with the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the administrator had his scheduler email the company’s chief executive last May to request a meeting with Pruitt on “a potential business opportunity.” The two men never got together, but Pruitt did speak with someone from the company’s legal department, revealing his interest in Marlyn Pruitt becoming a Chick-fil-A franchisee.
She started but never completed the franchise application.
The Democrats are not the only ones seeking the inspector general’s review of that episode. The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit group, wrote Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. on Friday to say that Pruitt’s behavior “constitutes a misuse of his position for his family’s private financial gain.”
Pruitt’s use of his subordinates to perform nonofficial duties has already caused upheaval within the agency. Earlier this week, the EPA’s director of scheduling and advance, Millan Hupp, gave notice of her departure; her last day will be Friday. Hupp helped search for multiple apartments for the administrator over a period of months, booked his private travel and inquired about the availability of a mattress at discounted cost from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
A second top Pruitt aide, senior adviser Sarah Greenwalt, informed colleagues on Wednesday that she also is leaving the EPA and returning to Oklahoma for work at a state agency.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.