Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is defending an attempt he made last year to secure a “business opportunity” for his wife with fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.
The attempted deal came to light in government emails released on Tuesday by the Sierra Club, which obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request. When Nextstar TV reporter Jessica Smith asked him about the effort on Wednesday, he responded indirectly by saying there are “significant” and “needed” changes happening at his agency and across the administration.
“With great change comes, I think, opposition,” Pruitt said.
The emails, as first reported by The Washington Post, revealed that Pruitt ordered an aide to set up a call with the chairman of Chick-fil-A in May 2017 to discuss, on behalf of Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn Pruitt, the possibility of becoming a franchisee of the fast-food chain.
She never completed the application, a Chick-fil-A spokeswoman said Tuesday. But Don Fox, who headed the federal Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama, told the Post that the call raised concerns about the “misuse of public office.”
Pruitt brushed off the report on Wednesday and signaled his and his wife’s enthusiasm for the fast-food chain.
“I love, she loves, we love [Chick-fil-A],” he said. “Chick-fil-A is a franchise of faith, and it’s one of the best in the country. And so that’s something we were very excited about ... We need more of them across the country.”
“It’s an exciting time,” he added.
The EPA did not immediately respond to requests for clarification whether a business deal between Marlyn Pruitt and Chick-fil-A was still a possibility.
Tuesday’s revelation is the latest in a string of controversies involving Scott Pruitt in recent weeks. Two top EPA employees ― aide Millan Hupp and senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt ― resigned on Wednesday, prompting further speculation that the agency is unraveling under its administrator.