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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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Biden brings closing message to historically red Georgia

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Joe Biden on Tuesday made his first visit of the 2020 election cycle to the battleground state of Georgia, delivering a closing argument centered around his criticism of President Donald Trump and his goal of seeking to “heal our nation.”

Speaking in Warm Springs, Georgia, Biden took aim at Trump’s responses to the dual public health and economic crises caused by Covid-19, as well as the protests for racial justice seen across the nation this year.

“These are all historic, painful crises. The insidious virus. Economic anguish. Systemic discrimination. Any one of them could have rocked a nation,” Biden said.

When it came to addressing systemic racism, he referred to the protests as a “cry for justice from communities that have long had the knee of injustice on their neck” and vowed “a new wave of justice in America.”

Biden’s events marked his first visit of the 2020 election cycle to Georgia, a state no Democratic presidential candidate has carried since 1992 but where Democrats have been making inroads.

Just a week ahead of Election Day, polls in the key Southern battleground show a tight race. The latest Real Clear Politics polling average in the state shows Biden trailing Trump by just 0.4 percentage points, while they have each led three of the last six polls in the state tracked by NBC News.

To win the state, Biden will need to carry large numbers of the state’s Black voters and large numbers of white suburbanites and white women, political strategists said.

Early voting in the state has already reached historic levels, with ballots cast there thus far already accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total ballots cast in the state in 2016.

In his address, Biden attempted to draw stark contrasts with Trump on how he’d govern if elected, saying he will be “a president who’s in it not for himself, but for others. A president who doesn’t divide us — but unites us. A president who appeals not to the worst in us — but to the best.”

“A president who cares less about his TV ratings — and more about the American people. A president who looks not to settle scores — but to find solutions. A president guided not by wishful thinking — but by science, reason and fact,” he added.

He also drew heavily upon the symbolism of the location of his speech, making frequent reference to the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt had a retreat in Warm Springs where he sought treatments for polio.

“Warm Springs is a good place to talk about hope and healing. This is where Franklin Roosevelt came to use the therapeutic waters to rebuild himself,” Biden noted.

Later Tuesday, Biden will hold a drive-in rally in Atlanta. His running mate, Kamala Harris, visited the state Friday.



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Nicola Sturgeon faces BACKLASH over Covid Levels system – new regions risk strict lockdown

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NICOLA Sturgeon has faced a backlash from MSPs after unveiling a new tier system of restrictions which are set to come into force next week.

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Judge rejects Justice Department bid to defend Trump in defamation case

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A federal judge in New York has ruled that a libel suit filed against President Trump by E. Jean Carroll cannot be dismissed and rejected the Department of Justice’s bid to defend him in the case. NBC’s Pete Williams has details.

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