Pruitt Investigation Update: Lobbyists, Condos, and Secret Phone Booths

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has been in the headlines lately for an increasingly outrageous series of scandals – ranging from his $50 a night lobbyist condo to wasting millions on travel and excessive security. American Oversight has been investigating Pruitt’s questionable management of the agency for more than a year, requesting documents to expose the unethical ways that he has run the EPA.

What We’ve Found:

Industry Meetings:

Calendars we obtained through FOIA litigation show that Pruitt spent much of his first months as head of the EPA favoring pesticide, chemical, and energy industry interests and almost no time consulting with environmental experts. His staff follow his example and regularly communicate and meet with the energy and pesticide industry. We’ve obtained records of these communications here.

Secrecy and Anti-Transparency Efforts at the EPA:

The level of secrecy at Scott Pruitt’s EPA is highly unprecedented. The EPA has taken steps to slow down the processing of FOIA requests and hide information that the public is entitled to receive. American Oversight is currently in litigation fighting back against EPA’s systematic practice of wrongly claiming that FOIA requests are overly broad.

Wasteful Spending on Office Upgrades:

American Oversight had to sue to obtain Pruitt’s office renovation expenses which sought records related to the “bug sweep” performed on Pruitt’s office, biometric locks he had installed, and reimbursements paid to staff for credit card expenses. The records we received revealed that — in addition spending large amounts of money on his office furniture and desks — Pruitt spent more than previously reported on a soundproof phone booth – with part of the cost going to refit a closet with a drop ceiling for a cost of $3,360. And the biometric locks cost taxpayers $5,885.

Retaliation Against Employees and Journalists:

Scott Pruitt has taken steps to intimidate the press and those who disagree with him. It was reported by Mother Jones and The New York Times that EPA signed a $120,000 no-bid contract with a Republican-linked political opposition research firm called Definers to monitor EPA employees who were resistant to Pruitt. A senior employee of the firm even submitted FOIAs to the EPA seeking records from employees who were suspected of being critical of the EPA under the new administration. Even though this contract was eventually cancelled, American Oversight obtained records related to the FOIA requests submitted by the company or related entities:

What We’re Still Investigating: 

Scott Pruitt’s First-Class Travel:

Once again, in the name of increased “security,” reports surfaced earlier this year that Pruitt was flying first class on all his trips – claiming that he received a waiver allowing him to do so for security reasons. It was later revealed that Pruitt only flew first class when taxpayers were paying, and that he flew in cheaper coach seats when he had to foot the bill himself. We submitted FOIAs to uncover the waiver requests submitted by Pruitt’s head security agent.

Questionable Office Sweep Contract:

The contract to conduct a “bug sweep” of Pruitt’s office was given to the business partner of Pruitt’s top security agent, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta. In addition to serving as the head of Pruitt’s security detail, Perrotta is a principal at Sequoia Security Group, a private consulting firm that is also partly run by Edwin Steinmetz. Perrotta recommended that the EPA hire Steinmetz sweep Pruitt’s office for bugs and other listening devices at a cost to taxpayers of $3,000. American Oversight submitted a FOIA and subsequently filed a lawsuit to find out more about this questionable contract.

Scott Pruitt’s Lobbyist-Funded Condo:

We’re also asking EPA for details about the pipeline deal linked to Scott Pruitt’s landlord after ABC News reported that Pruitt had been renting a condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist for $50 a night. It was then reported that a client associated with Pruitt’s landlord was given a pipeline contract. American Oversight submitted a series of FOIAs to shed light on this arrangement and any involvement by Scott Pruitt in the EPA’s evaluation of the proposed pipeline expansion.

As Scott Pruitt’s unethical behavior while he’s still head of the EPA continues, we’re going to keep investigating and obtaining documents in order to hold him accountable. He may want to hide the truth from the public, but records don’t lie.