He asked Chick-fil-A. A conservative activist group. Republican donors.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was on a mission to find his wife, Marlyn Pruitt, a job last year, The Washington Post is reporting, and he even used EPA aides to help him do it.

It's the latest in a months-long string of ethics lapses and alleged abuses of power on Pruitt's part, but it also could be the most significant for him.

The Fix sat down with Washington Post environmental reporter Brady Dennis, who has been covering Pruitt's scandals, to talk about why the EPA chief could be in legal trouble, what happens next and why he still has his job. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

THE FIX: Let's rewind. What has your reporting uncovered about Pruitt's ethical lapses so far?

DENNIS: He is by far the most controversial and the most investigated Trump Cabinet member at this point. It's at least a dozen — depending on how you count them — federal inquiries into everything from his first-class flights that taxpayers paid for to a $50-a-night condo rental from a D.C. lobbyist, to a $43,000 soundproof phone booth that was installed in his office, to the most recent revelations about using his subordinates at the EPA for all sorts of things: to look for a mattress, to pick up his dry cleaning, to help in the search for his wife to find a job.

In the records we've gotten so far, the emails we've seen cover only certain periods, so there are stretches of time when we don't know a lot about what was happening.

Tallying Pruitt’s problematic EPA spending

THE FIX: With regard to helping get his wife a job, it seems as if there are two major ethical issues here: that he was using his position of authority to try to find jobs for her and that he tasked taxpayer-funded staff with helping in that.


Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. swears in Scott Pruitt as Marlyn Pruitt holds the Bible. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

DENNIS: Right. There are federal laws that say you can't use your public office for personal gain and that includes yourself, your family, your friends. So if [using aides to get his wife a job] were to be found to be an example of that, that would certainly be a violation of federal law.

There are other federal rules that are very clear that you cannot use the labor of subordinates to do things on your behalf personally. He had an aide that was helping with his housing search. He said she was a family friend. My understanding is it doesn't matter; you can't accept free labor from someone who works for you.

Whether he was using his position for personal gain, those are questions people are raising.

THE FIX: You've also reported he created potential conflicts of interest to try to get his wife a job.

DENNIS: It's been striking to us that in some cases, the people Scott Pruitt went to during this job hunt on behalf of his wife seemed to have considered the ethical parts of it closer than maybe he did. [GOP donor] Doug Deason told us that he said to Scott Pruitt: 'I couldn’t find anything that made sense, that wasn’t some kind of conflict.'"

The group that eventually did give his wife a contract told us that they went to their own lawyers and made sure they didn't have any ethical problem in hiring her. Scott Pruitt never went to the EPA's ethics attorneys to ask if it was okay.

THE FIX: You've tweeted that the bottom line about the latest scandal is this: To what extent did Scott Pruitt use his government position and the time and labor of his subordinates (who are paid by taxpayers) to financially benefit himself or his family?

DENNIS: That's the key question, and I think the most relevant. No doubt, there's going to be a push to investigate to see if there is illegal behavior there. And we as a society care when people abuse their position.

THE FIX: You could argue that President Trump and his family are the poster people for blurring or crossing the line between personal gain and their public-service jobs. Is this coming from the top?


President Trump shakes hands with Scott Pruitt in June 2017 after announcing his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

DENNIS: Scott Pruitt still has his job in part because Trump doesn't see this as a fireable offense, or he hasn't yet. The tone gets set at the top, and if Scott Pruitt is confident there is no consequences from this — and there may not be — that comes from the top because it has to be the president who decides whether to keep him or let him go.

So far, there's no indication that Trump has any intention of letting him go, despite even conservatives who want him gone, even several staffers in  the White House. But the most important White House staffer hasn't felt that way so far.

THE FIX: You've reported that Trump just likes the guy.

DENNIS: I think that's a big part of it. Our reporting and other people's reporting shows they talk frequently. And Pruitt is very diligent about not just carrying out the policies that Trump wants, but personally praising the president any chance he gets.

THE FIX: What do we know about any potential legal consequences for Pruitt?

DENNIS: I think it's a little too early to say. He does now have an outside attorney who has helped him set up a legal-defense fund. I think he's very aware about the level of scrutiny he's under, and I don't know how it all shakes out.