WASHINGTON (AP) — An Environmental Protection Agency lawyer said he wasn’t provided the full facts when he ruled there was no ethics violation in Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lease of a bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo with ties to a fossil fuels lobbyist.
In a letter dated Wednesday, EPA ethics lawyer Kevin Minoli said his finding last week that Pruitt was paying fair-market value was based on the assumption that Pruitt occupied only one bedroom for $50 a night, as outlined in the lease.
Media reports later disclosed that Pruitt’s college-aged daughter occupied a second bedroom in the unit while she interned at the White House last summer. Minoli said he did not consider the value of a second room in his analysis.
Pruitt paid about $1,000 a month, less than a third of what Minoli’s review found nearby two-bedroom homes listed for.
“Some have raised questions whether the actual use of the space was consistent with the terms of the lease,” Minoli wrote Wednesday. “Evaluating those questions would have required factual information that was not before us and the review does not address those questions.”
The Associated Press obtained a copy of Minoli’s letter, which was first reported by CNN.
Pruitt had gone on the offensive Wednesday trying to shore up his position in a series of interviews with Fox News and conservative media outlets during which he continued to suggest he had lived alone.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that a review of Pruitt’s actions is underway and that President Donald Trump is not OK with some of the details that have emerged, including news this week of enormous raises awarded to two of Pruitt’s closest aides. Pruitt said Wednesday he didn’t approve the raises and doesn’t know who did.
An EPA employee told the AP that another of Pruitt’s closest aides has resigned. Samantha Dravis served as Pruitt’s senior counsel and associate administrator for policy. The source, who had direct knowledge of Dravis’ resignation, was not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity.
Dravis, 34, previously worked for a fundraising group founded by Pruitt before being hired at EPA, where she often accompanied the administrator on his frequent trips across the country and oversees. The source said Dravis had not been attending meetings inside the agency in recent weeks and was recently informed she would not be accompanying Pruitt on a planned trip to Portugal.
EPA’s press office did not respond Thursday to requests for comment about Dravis’ resignation or Minoli’s letter.
Questions about whether Pruitt will remain in his job have swirled for more than a week, since news first broke about his rental of the condo co-owned by the wife of Steven Hart, chairman and CEO of the powerhouse lobbying firm Williams & Jensen.
Federal disclosure reports show Hart’s firm lobbied EPA extensively in the last year — including Pruitt himself.
The Associated Press reported last week that while living in the Harts’ condo he met in his EPA office with a lobbyist from Hart’s firm and two executives from an energy company seeking to scuttle tighter pollution standards for coal-fired power plants.
EPA also granted a favorable ruling to a pipeline company represented by Hart’s firm.
Beyond the question of whether Pruitt paid a fair-market value for the rental, Hart’s business interests potentially raise other ethics issues that Minoli wrote that he did not consider as part of his earlier review of whether the favorable lease constituted an improper gift to Pruitt from the lobbyist.
Ethics rules covering federal officials say they must remain impartial when making regulatory decisions and can’t show favoritism.
“I think it was very poor judgment for Pruitt to rent a place owned by a lobbyist who describes him as only a casual friend,” said Walter Shaub, who ran the federal Office of Government Ethics before quitting last year after clashing with Trump. “My biggest concern centers on the question of whether he may have met with anyone from the lobbyist’s firm while staying there, which would implicate the impartiality regulation.”
Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck