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EPA chief paid $50 a night for Washington, D.C. condo linked to lobbyist

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Justina Fugh, an ethics lawyer at EPA, told The Associated Press on Friday Pruitt’s rental agreement allowed him to only pay for nights he occupied the room, totaling about $6,000 in payments over the term of the lease.

Fugh said she was first briefed by other EPA officials about the terms of lease on Thursday, shortly after ABC News first reported on Pruitt’s prior living arrangements. Fugh said she was not asked to review the lease or issue a formal legal opinion on it, though she did not immediately see it as an ethical concern since Pruitt paid for the room.

Fugh said she was told Pruitt has since moved to another apartment, though she said she was not privy to any details about where the administrator is currently staying, who owns that property or what rate he is paying.

Inside the White House on Friday, staffers expressed frustration by the optics of Pruitt’s living arrangements, which come on the heels of the dismissal of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin over ethical missteps.

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’s 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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BBC cuts off Covid briefing as Boris Johnson warns of new variant 'What the hell!'

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BBC One viewers were furious as the Downing Street press conference which discussed the new variants of concerns and potential roadmap delays were abruptly stopped for adverts.

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Democrat Rep. Cicilline moves to censure GOP lawmakers he says are downplaying Capitol attack

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Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is seeking support for a resolution to censure several Republican lawmakers who he said made misleading comments this week about the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Cicilline’s resolution names Republican Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Jody Hice of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona. The text is forthcoming, but Cicilline sent a memo to his Democratic colleagues asking for support by close of business on Monday.

“These members cannot be allowed to rewrite history at their convenience by disrespecting the sacrifices made by Capitol police officers and downplaying the violent, destructive intent that rioters carried into this sacred building,” Cicilline wrote to his colleagues. The Jan. 6 riot “was an attack on our democracy that we must continue to defend against today,” the letter said.

More than 440 people have been charged so far in the Jan. 6 violence, which left five people dead.

The resolution comes after Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the Capitol attack during which former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified. During that hearing, Clyde said it was “not an insurrection” and likened it to a “normal tourist visit.”

“There was an undisciplined mob. There were some rioters, and some who committed acts of vandalism,” Clyde said. “But let me be clear, there was no insurrection and to call it an insurrection in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie. Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol, and walk through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures, you know.”

Gosar called the death of Ashli Babbitt, a pro-Trump rioter who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer while trying to enter the House chamber, “an execution.” Gosar also said federal law enforcement was “harassing peaceful patriots” as it searched through photographic evidence of those who might have committed crimes on that day. Hice appeared to sympathize with the mob.

“It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others,” Hice said.

The offices of Clyde, Hice and Gosar did not respond to a request for comment.

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No stopping Boris! Tories surge 15 points ahead as Labour fall further behind: 'Woeful!'

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THE Conservatives have made further gains in the polls after Boris Johnson secured a defining victory in the recent elections which saw Sir Keir Starmer flop in his first big test as Labour leader.

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