EPA boss Scott Pruitt had aide inquire about used mattress from Trump hotel, perform personal chores
WASHINGTON – Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt had a top aide seek a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel and perform other personal chores for him, according to an email and testimony from the aide released Monday.
The account from Pruitt scheduling director Millan Hupp is in a letter House Democrats sent Monday to Oversight committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Hupp appeared before a panel of House oversight committee staffers earlier this month. Democrats released a partial transcript of her interview, including Hupp’s account that Pruitt had her do personal errands, including house hunting and booking a trip for him to the Rose Bowl.
Staffers also asked Hupp about an email that showed her reaching out to managers of the Trump hotel at Pruitt’s request. Hupp told the House staffers that Pruitt was seeking to secure a used mattress from the Trump hotel.
Hupp told them she did not know what Pruitt planned to do with any mattress, but added, “It was around the same time that he was moving.”
Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Gerald Connolly of Virginia, the top Democrats on the House oversight committee and a subcommittee on government operations, called the errands a violation of federal law on gifts from subordinates. In their letter, the Democrats ask Gowdy to issue a subpoena for government records they say EPA is currently withholding from the committee.
“During her interview with Committee staff, Ms. Hupp not only confirmed the previous allegations against Administrator Pruitt, but revealed significant new details about the extent to which he utilized her for personal tasks, including using his credit card to book personal flights and even attempting to obtain an ‘old mattress,”‘ Cummings and Connolly wrote. “If Ms. Hupp’s statements to the Committee are accurate, Administrator Pruitt crossed a very clear line and must be held accountable.”
EPA’s press office did not answer questions Monday about whether Pruitt got the mattress and, if so, how much he paid for it and whether hotel staff delivered it to his home. EPA also wouldn’t comment on whether EPA ethics officials had reviewed whether the administrator accepting the mattress would potentially violate federal rules prohibiting officials from accepting gifts.
“We are working diligently with Chairman Gowdy and are in full co-operation in providing the committee with the necessary documents, travel vouchers, receipts and witnesses to his inquiries,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox.
Neither the White House nor Trump Organization responded to requests for comment.
A staffer who answered the phone at the Trump hotel on Monday told The Associated Press that the hotel’s standard mattress is a Stearns & Foster model, and that it can be purchased through Trump Hotel guest services. A call to a number provided inquiring about pricing was not immediately returned.
EPA emails obtained by The Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act late last month show Hupp and another EPA staffer also contacted a Washington-area real estate agent, during work days.
“Just checking in to make sure everything is taken care of with Mr. Pruitt,” realtor John Walker wrote Hupp in one final email, in August 2017. Walker said he never actually showed any prospective homes to Pruitt or his staff.
Hupp had denied using EPA email for Pruitt’s house-hunting when she talked to House staffers last month.
During congressional hearings last month, Pruitt was asked if Hupp did the search during work hours.
“I’m not aware of any government time being used by Millan Hupp,” Pruitt testified before a House subcommittee on April 26, according to a transcript. “She is a friend of both my wife and myself. It has been for number of years. And she is a friend.”
EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and the House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform are conducting a dozen separate investigations into alleged misspending and ethical missteps involving Pruitt and his top aides.
Federal law makes it a crime to “knowingly and willfully” give materially false statements to Congress.
A spokeswoman for Gowdy, the House oversight chairman, said the committee has conducted several interviews and obtained 2,350 pages of documents as part of its investigation into allegations of mismanagement and spending at the EPA. This month, the committee will interview additional witnesses and receive additional document productions.
“Selectively releasing portions of witness interview transcripts damages the credibility of our investigation and discourages future witnesses from coming forward,” said Amanda Gonzalez, Gowdy’s spokeswoman. “The committee will continue conducting a serious, fact-driven investigation, and therefore will wait until the conclusion of our investigation to release our findings.”
Pruitt has been under intense scrutiny since March, when media reports first revealed the EPA chief had rented a luxury Capitol Hill condo tied to a prominent oil and gas lobbyist for just $50 a night. Pruitt’s daughter, then a White House summer intern, stayed in a second bedroom at the condo at no additional cost.
Other recently disclosed examples of the Pruitt seeking special treatment include his repeated use of first-class air travel, luxury hotel suits and directing his security staff to use lights and sirens to speed through Washington traffic to dinner reservations.
Pruitt and his son asked coal mining baron Joseph W. Craft III for courtside seats to a University of Kentucky basketball game, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Though the seats were in a section reserved for donors who had given at least a million dollars to the university, Wilcox said Pruitt paid just the face value of $130 for each ticket. Wilcox told the Times that Pruitt paid the billionaire in cash and that there was no receipt.
Individual seats farther from the court for the upcoming Kentucky basketball season are listed for hundreds of dollars more and did not come with the perks associated with the seats that Pruitt got – such as the right to have his picture taken with a University of Kentucky basketball star.
Associated Press investigative reporter Jeff Horwitz contributed to this story.
© 2018 The Canadian Press