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EPA chief paid $50 a night for Washington condo linked to lobbyist

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But while officials in the West Wing are reviewing the seriousness of the questions around Pruitt, it was too soon to know if the EPA secretary would face harsh internal questioning or draw the ire of President Donald Trump, according to a White House official not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

A Republican who previously served as the state attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt has long been a champion of the oil and gas industry. In the year he has served as the Trump administration’s top environmental official, Pruitt has moved to scrap, gut or replace numerous environmental regulations opposed by the industry while boosting the continued burning of fossil fuels, which is the primary cause of climate change.

In December, Pruitt and members of his staff spent about $40,000 in taxpayer funds to fly to Morocco to help encourage the North African kingdom to import liquefied natural gas from the United States. Cheniere, the lobbying client of Hart’s firm, is currently the only exporter of liquefied natural gas from the continental United States.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Hart said Pruitt is a casual friend from Oklahoma who moved into the building in early 2017. Hart said he had no contact with Pruitt for many months, other than a brief exchange at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.

“Pruitt signed a market based, short-term lease for a condo owned partially by my wife,” Hart said, according to a statement released by his firm. “Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease. My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters.”

Hart’s wife, Vicki Hart, is also a lobbyist, focusing on health care issues.

EPA’s press office also did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday or Friday about Pruitt’s Washington living arrangements.

The $50 a night rate Pruitt paid is significantly less than advertised rates for rentals in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where the unit is located. One bedroom apartments listed for rent in the immediate area on Friday ranged between $1,600 and $2,500 a month, depending on amenities. Single rooms listed online for one-night rentals averaged about $120 a night.

Pruitt has been under increasing scrutiny for this frequent taxpayer-funded travel, which has included first-class airline tickets. Though federal regulations typically require federal officials to fly in coach, the EPA chief has said he needed to sit in premium seats due to security concerns.

After a series of recent media reports about questionable spending, Pruitt was one four high-ranking Trump officials who met separately with White House Cabinet Secretary William McGinley to discuss proper ethics practices.

The president is still said to be fond of Pruitt and has applauded the EPA secretary for his attention-grabbing dust-ups with environmentalist groups, according to the White House official and an outside Trump adviser.

Both a House oversight committee and the EPA’s inspector general are now reviewing Pruitt’s travel spending. Jeffrey Lagda, a spokesman for EPA’s internal watchdog, said Friday that the office has been “made aware of the allegations related to Administrator Pruitt’s living arrangements last year.”

Pruitt’s EPA travel has also often included weekend-long layovers at his home in Tulsa. The EPA chief is widely mentioned in Oklahoma as a possible successor to Sen. James Inhofe, the state’s octogenarian GOP senator who is expected to retire at the end of his current term.

Among the clients at Hart’s lobbying firm is OGE Energy Corp., an electricity company serving Oklahoma and Arkansas. According to federal disclosure reports, the company paid Williams and Jensen $400,000 in 2017 to lobby on issues that included EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Copies of Pruitt’s daily calendar obtained by the AP through a public records request show that Pruitt held a March 2017 meeting in his EPA office with OGE Chairman and CEO Sean Trauschke and company vice president Paul Renfrow. The meeting was arranged at the request of George Baker, a registered lobbyist from Hart’s firm, who also attended.

In October, EPA announced it would rewrite the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that sought to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants like those operated by OGE. EPA has also moved to scrap regulations cutting power plant emissions of such toxic substances as mercury, as well as tighter standards on dumps containing coal ash.

Records show Pruitt has had a long relationship with OGE. Campaign finance reports from Oklahoma show more than three dozen OGE executives donated to Pruitt’s 2014 re-election campaign for state attorney general, even though he was running without a Democratic opponent. OGE chairman Peter Delaney contributed $3,500, while Trauschke kicked in $2,500 and Renfrow contributed $1,000.

Environmental groups pointed to news of Pruitt’s living arrangements as further evidence he caters to polluters, and they renewed their calls for him to resign.

“Scott Pruitt got a sweetheart deal on a D.C. condo directly from a fossil fuel lobbyist, then wasted thousands in taxpayer dollars pushing that lobbyist’s agenda on a trip to Morocco,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. “This deal stinks like the swamp Scott Pruitt is mired in.”

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Verhofstadt attacked over 'farce of EU’s democratic values’ after rant against Orban

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GUY VERHOFSTADT’S attempt to interfere in Hungarian politics has been torn apart by observers who said the eurocrat was “illustrating the farce of so-called EU’s democratic values” with his rant.

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Oh dear, Nicola! Sturgeon's independence and EU dreams dismantled ‘Greece without the sun’

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NICOLA STURGEON’s separatist dream is nothing but a “tartan fantasy” which will cost Scotland £26billion a year and leave it in debt to the tune of £300billion, an economist has warned.

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Christine Wormuth set to lead Army as first female secretary

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BERLIN — President Joe Biden plans to nominate Christine Wormuth, a former senior Pentagon official, to be the first woman to lead the Army, the White House said Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate as Army secretary, Wormuth would be one of the more powerful officials in a defense establishment long dominated by men. She would work with the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. James McConville, who does not command soldiers but is responsible, along with the Army secretary, for training and equipping them.

Biden has not yet nominated anyone to serve as Air Force or Navy secretary. Many other Pentagon positions that require Senate confirmation also have yet to be filled. The most senior Defense Department nominee still awaiting Senate confirmation is Colin Kahl, picked to be under secretary of defense for policy. His nomination emerged from committee on a 13-13 vote and it’s unclear when the full Senate will act.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was traveling abroad when Wormuth’s nomination was announced, praised her track record.

“Christine is a true patriot with a dedicated career in service to America and our nation’s security,” he said in a prepared statement. He called her deeply experienced.

“I have no doubt that if confirmed she will lead our soldiers and represent their families with honor and integrity as the secretary of the Army,” Austin said.

Wormuth led Biden’s Pentagon transition team during the tumultuous period between the November election and Inauguration Day. She currently is director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp., a federally funded think tank.

During the administration of former President Barack Obama, she served as the under secretary of defense for policy. She also served as the senior director for defense policy on Obama’s National Security Council and held other Defense Department positions.

Wormuth’s nomination would continue a Biden trend of choosing women and people of color for top Defense Department jobs. Austin is the first Black secretary of defense, and Kathleen Hicks is the first woman to hold the job of deputy defense secretary.

The White House also announced the nominations of Gil Cisneros to be undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Susanna Blume as director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, a key office that provides independent analysis and evaluation of major defense programs and activities. She currently is the interim director of that office and has previously held senior staff positions in the Pentagon.

Cisneros is a former member of Congress and a Navy veteran.

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