- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2018

Despite repeated denials, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt knew about and approved pay raises for two top aides, an agency whistleblower told congressional Democrats in a series of explosive accusations that raise fresh ethical questions around the EPA chief.

In letters to both Mr. Pruitt and President Trump on Thursday, the five Democrats — three House members and two senators — said they want to see a host of emails and other documents related to Mr. Pruitt’s handling of the Environmental Protection Agency, his private travel, his $50-per-night condo rental from the wife of an oil-industry lobbyist, and other issues.

The whistleblower, Kevin Chmielewski, former deputy chief of staff for operations at the EPA and a former Trump campaign aide, also said Mr. Pruitt tried to rent a $100,000-per-month private jet, which would’ve quickly blown a hole in the administrator’s annual travel budget of $450,000.

“It appears you have not received all the facts surrounding Administrator Pruitt’s spending, security arrangements, travel, living arrangements and personnel actions, among other things,” the Democrats told Mr. Trump in their letter. “We therefore urge you to continue to conduct your own investigation of Administrator Pruitt’s actions, including examining relevant documents and speaking with credible witnesses such as Mr. Chmielewski.

Mr. Chmielewski said to us when explaining his decision to speak out against Administrator Pruitt that, regardless of political party, ‘right is right, and wrong is wrong,’ ” they continued.

The letter was signed by Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and by Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Gerald Connolly of Virginia and Donald Beyer of Virginia.

The EPA did not directly address the accusations.

“We will respond to members of Congress through the proper channel,” said agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

The new information — which comes as the White House conducts its own review of Mr. Pruitt’s actions, along with a host of EPA inspector-general reviews — once again shines an unwanted spotlight on the embattled administrator.

Mr. Pruitt last week denied having any knowledge of pay raises for two top aides — raises that the White House had previously denied. The EPA then used obscure authority under a federal law to reassign the employees and give them the raises.

Mr. Chmielewski, who was put on leave from the agency in February, told Democrats the raises were “100 percent Pruitt himself.”

On Mr. Pruitt’s condo rental, the former EPA official said that Mr. Pruitt’s landlord, lobbyist Steven Hart, “was complaining that you had never paid any rent to him, and that your daughter damaged his hardwood floors by repeatedly rolling her luggage across the unit when she was staying there.”

Mr. Pruitt also has come under fire for his first-class travel and use of a 24/7 security detail.

On travel, Mr. Chmielewski said that Mr. Pruitt “sought to have the agency enter into a $100,000-per-month contract to rent a private jet,” but that the plan was ultimately blocked by other EPA officials. He also said the administrator routinely picked out locations he wanted to visit and then told staff to “find me something to do” to justify the trip as official business.

Mr. Pruitt also directed staff to find him reasons to visit his home state of Oklahoma; repeatedly picked hotels far more expensive than the allowable U.S. government per diem; and asked staff to book his flights on Delta even when that wasn’t the federal government’s contract carrier so he could accrue personal frequent-flyer miles, the whistleblower charged.

More broadly, Mr. Chmielewski described an environment in which employees who questioned Mr. Pruitt were demoted, reassigned, or removed.

Earlier this week, an EPA official who signed off on security reviews that questioned whether the administrator truly needed around-the-clock protection was removed from his job. EPA officials denied any connection between the firing and the release of the internal security review.

Mr. Chmielewski described an environment in which you sought to marginalize, remove or otherwise retaliate against agency employees who advised you not to take these troubling actions, or refused to take or justify such actions at your direction,” the Democrats said in the letter to Mr. Pruitt.

The EPA chief has maintained that he’s done nothing wrong and that his enemies — including some inside the agency itself, which he described as a “bastion of liberalism” — are trying to use the controversies to force him out.

Mr. Trump last weekend expressed strong support for Mr. Pruitt, and said he’s doing a great job.

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