Six top House Democrats on Friday urged the FBI and Department of Justice to open criminal investigations into Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s use of his office to enrich his family.
The members of Congress sent a two-page letter to the agencies expressing “grave concerns” over Pruitt’s conduct two days after revelations emerged that the administrator ordered EPA staffers to arrange a call with the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A’s chairman to discuss obtaining a franchise for his wife, Marlyn Pruitt.
Concerned about the expense of the family’s homes in Oklahoma and Washington, Pruitt later attempted to secure his wife a job at the nonprofit Concordia. The group paid Marlyn Pruitt $2,000, plus travel expenses, to help organize its annual conference last September.
“It remains unclear whether the EPA under Administrator Pruitt has taken actions that might benefit these organizations and companies since those meetings,” reads the letter, signed by Reps. Don Beyer (Va.), Gerry Connolly (Va.), Jamie Raskin (Md.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Ted Lieu (Calif.).
The request marks a significant ramp-up of public corruption accusations against the embattled administrator. The Democrats suggest Pruitt’s actions “may have crossed a line into criminal conduct punishable by fines or even by time in prison.”
“Pruitt’s actions 'may have crossed a line into criminal conduct punishable by fines or even by time in prison.'”
Pruitt is already facing at least a dozen ethics probes from the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the White House and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. One investigation concluded in April that Pruitt broke federal law by spending $43,000 to install a soundproof phone booth at the EPA. But the probe House Democrats are now requesting would be the first criminal investigation since Pruitt’s whirlwind of ethics controversies began three months ago.
The letter also cited Pruitt’s $50-a-night deal to rent a luxury condominium on Capitol Hill from the wife of an energy lobbyist with business before the EPA as evidence of corruption.
“At the very least, we know that federal ethics laws bar public officials from using their position or staff for private gain. Administrator Pruitt has certainly done just that,” they wrote. “We formally request that the FBI open an investigation into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s conduct to assess whether he broke the law, including criminal statutes prohibiting public corruption.”
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The request caps off another week of bombshell revelations about Pruitt. On Monday, newly-released congressional testimony from a top aide showed Pruitt instructed the staffer to try to buy him a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported the Chick-fil-A news. On Wednesday, two top aides, including the one at the center of the mattress controversy, resigned. On Thursday, news broke that Pruitt ordered his security staff to scour Ritz-Carlton hotels for his favorite moisturizing lotion.
Yet the embarrassing string of reports hasn’t delayed Pruitt’s deregulatory push. On Thursday, the EPA issued a formal notice soliciting ideas for how to overhaul the way the agency weighs the costs and benefits of regulations, widely seen as a push to tilt future rulemaking in favor of industry. It marked the third such drastic change to the agency regulatory outlook since Pruitt’s avalanche of controversies began three months ago.
The moves seem to be placating the one person with the power to fire Pruitt. At an event on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said, “EPA is doing really, really well.”