More awkward news for the beleaguered head of the Environmental Protection Agency: An energy lobbyist’s name was scratched out as the landlord on Scott Pruitt’s controversial condo lease and replaced with the name of the lobbyist’s wife.
Three Republican members of Congress have now called for Pruitt’s resignation since it was revealed the EPA chief paid a favorable rent last year to live in a Washington, D.C., condo linked to prominent energy lobbyist Steven Hart.
Details of the deal emerged in the wake of an investigation into Pruitt’s unusually expensive travel as part of his work for the EPA. One trip to Morocco last year cost $40,000. Pruitt spent his time touting liquified natural gas exports to that nation. The only exporter of liquified natural gas from the continental U.S. is Cheniere Energy Inc. The company was a client of Hart’s lobbying company, Williams & Jenson, while Pruitt was renting the condo. Exxon Mobil is also a client.
Steven Hart told ABC News that the condo was co-owned by his wife, Vicki Hart, with other unnamed partners. He said he believed the rent Pruitt paid — $50 a night a block away from the Capitol — was close to market rate.
A copy of Pruitt’s lease was published Thursday by The Washington Post. “Steve” is clearly seen scratched out on the lease to be replaced by “Vicki” Hart.
The EPA ethics office signed off on the condo deal, but a memo obtained by CNN and the Post, which included a copy of the lease, now says that not all the facts were known at the time.
Pruitt’s lease claimed he used only one room of the condo when he was in town, but it’s difficult to imagine he had roommates. Several EPA sources told The Washington Post that Pruitt’s daughter stayed in a second bedroom of the condo while she was working in the White House.
“Some have raised questions whether the actual use of the space was consistent with the terms of the lease,” the EPA lead ethics official, Kevin Minoli, wrote in his April 4 memo.
The impartiality rule requires that government officials avoid doing things that could create an “appearance of favoritism in government decision-making,” according to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
Ethical concerns about the condo are among several new issues dogging Pruitt. Two of Pruitt’s aides were recently granted raises (of 52 percent and 33 percent) despite the White House rejecting the increases. Pruitt told Fox News Wednesday that he was attempting to determine how that happened. But two unnamed EPA officials told the Post that Pruitt instructed aides to award the raises.
Pruitt also attempted to inappropriately use his vehicle’s emergency sirens simply to cut through traffic. And The New York Times reported that five EPA officials who challenged Pruitt’s “unusually large spending” were either reassigned, demoted or forced out.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that “we take this seriously and we’re looking into” the condo lease.
If Pruitt steps down, he will serve the shortest term of any EPA chief in history.