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EPA spent millions on 20-member security detail for Pruitt, records show

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, at a press briefing Friday, praised Pruitt but said the administration was “continuing to review any of the concerns that we have.”

“No one other than the president has the authority to hire and fire members of his Cabinet. It’s a decision that he’ll make, and right now I don’t have any personnel announcements,” she added.

In recent weeks, Pruitt has been the subject of multiple negative reports that have raised ethics concerns about his frequent first-class travel, his sweetheart deal to rent a condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist, and big pay raises reportedly afforded to top aides without White House approval.

Shortly after arriving in Washington, Pruitt demoted the career staff member heading his security detail and replaced him with EPA Senior Special Agent Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who operates a private security company. An EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending says Perrotta oversaw a rapid expansion of the EPA chief’s security detail to accommodate guarding him day and night, even on family vacations and when Pruitt was home in Oklahoma.

The EPA official spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The EPA official said there are legitimate concerns about Pruitt’s safety, given public opposition to his rollbacks of anti-pollution measures.

But Pruitt’s ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many investigators hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Pruitt traveled to California for a family vacation.

The EPA official said total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.

More allegations emerged Thursday, when CBS News reported that Pruitt, just weeks after he was confirmed to the post, wanted to use his vehicle’s sirens and lights to get through Washington traffic. When his lead security agent refused the request, explaining that he couldn’t use them unless there was an emergency, the EPA reassigned him, CBS News reported.

The New York Times also reported Thursday that several EPA officials, some of them senior, had been sidelined after questioning Pruitt.

Pruitt has faced continued fallout over reports that for the first six months he was in Washington, he leased a Capitol Hill condo tied to a lobbyist that did business with the EPA and paid just $50 a night, only for the nights he stayed there. The news was first reported by ABC News, which also reported that the townhouse is co-owned by Vicki Hart, the health care lobbyist wife of J. Steven Hart, an energy lobbyist. By Friday, news had emerged that Pruitt was supposed to live in the Harts’ condo for only six weeks and that, according to Politico, the Harts pushed him out and changed their locks. Politico reported a day earlier that Pruitt had also fallen behind on his cut-rate rent payments.

And in February, Pruitt drew criticism after it was revealed he and his aides spent more than $90,000 for trips in early June and $15,000 to fly home during the weekends to Oklahoma between March and May of 2017. Pruitt traveled mostly first class, despite federal regulations requiring federal officials to fly in coach. Two month earlier, in December, Pruitt and members of his staff spent roughly $40,000 in taxpayer funds to fly to Morocco to help encourage the country to import liquefied natural gas from the United States.

In addition, The Atlantic reported that Pruitt had bypassed the White House to give two top aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, substantial pay raises.

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More than 20,000 Haitians are gathered in Colombia for possible migration to U.S.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are tracking large groups of Haitians in Latin America, including more than 20,000 in Colombia, who like the thousands now massed on the Texas border may soon try to reach the U.S., according to an internal document obtained by NBC News.

The Department of Homeland Security document also said the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency’s internal watchdog, is investigating an incident in which a Border Patrol agent on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, grabbed a Haitian migrant by the shirt. The incident, captured by a news photographer, drew widespread criticism Monday, prompting White House press secretary Jen Psaki to describe it as “horrific.”

In addition to the 20,000 Haitians gathered in northern Colombia, DHS is also monitoring groups of about 1,500 in Panama and 3,000 in Peru, the document said. A senior DHS official said it remains to be seen when and whether those migrants will come to the U.S., but they have begun “staging” in the various countries, potentially signaling they are planning to travel in large numbers.

Like the surge of 15,000 Haitian migrants who arrived in Del Rio over the past week, most of the migrants in Central and South America left Haiti years ago, many of them after the 2010 earthquake, and have been living in other countries.

Recent economic conditions in those countries, as well as what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described as misinformation about the Biden administration’s willingness to take in Haitians, have triggered many to seek protections in the U.S.

When DHS has previously monitored caravans of migrants headed to the U.S. border in large numbers, there has been a two to three-week lag between their departure and their arrival. But many of the recently arrived Haitians took buses through Mexico, expediting their arrival and increasing their numbers.

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CIA director’s team member reported Havana Syndrome symptoms during India trip

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A CIA official reported symptoms consistent with so-called Havana Syndrome, a mysterious affliction that has struck diplomats, spies and other government workers at home and abroad, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News on Monday.

The unidentified employee was traveling with CIA director Bill Burns during a trip to India this month. The employee was immediately tested as part of a protocol the CIA has established to deal with the mysterious brain symptoms typically associated with Havana Syndrome and is receiving medical treatment, the sources said.

The incident was first reported by CNN.

This is the latest reported case of a U.S. government employee reporting symptoms associated with the mysterious ailment. Havana Syndrome first came into public view in 2017 after U.S. diplomats and other government workers stationed in Cuba reported feeling unusual physical sensations after hearing strange high- and low-pitched sounds. U.S. government employees have also reported cases while in China and the Washington, D.C. area.

In late August, at least two U.S. diplomats were medically evacuated from Vietnam after Havana Syndrome incidents were reported in the capital city of Hanoi ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ arrival.

“The health and well-being of American public servants is of paramount importance to the administration, and we take extremely seriously any report by our personnel of an anomalous health incident,” a senior administration official said Monday night. “It is a top priority for the U.S. government to determine the cause of these incidents as quickly as possible and that we ensure any affected individuals get the care they need.”

Many people who have experienced Havana Syndrome report experiencing vertigo, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and intense headaches. Some describe it as being hit by an invisible blast wave. Some have no longer been able to work.

The India incident has raised questions about whether a foreign adversary had intentionally targeted the CIA director’s staff, but the sources said the agency is unclear what exactly could have caused the incident. The case is one of a number of new incidents in recent months involving CIA personnel who experienced what U.S. officials call “anomalous health incidents,” the sources said.

A CIA spokeswoman declined to confirm the case in India but said the U.S. government and the agency are taking every incident seriously.

“Director Burns has made it a top priority to ensure officers get the care they need and that we get to the bottom of this,” the spokeswoman said. “We’ve strengthened efforts to determine the origins of the incidents, including assembling a team of our very best experts — bringing an intensity and expertise to this issue akin to our efforts to find Bin Ladin.”

The spokeswoman added that a panel of experts has been convened from across intelligence agencies “to work collectively to increase our understanding of the possible mechanisms that could be causing [anomalous health incidents].”

Many U.S. officials suspect the incidents, which have caused permanent brain injuries in some victims, are a result of an attack or surveillance operation by Russian spies, but the evidence is inconclusive.

The National Academies of Sciences said in a report last year the most likely cause of the injuries was directed microwave energy, but that conclusion is being debated in the scientific community.

Last week, deputy CIA director David Cohen said the agency is getting closer to solving the mystery, but there are limitations.

“In terms of have we gotten closer, I think the answer is yes — but not close enough to make analytic judgment that people are waiting for,” he said.

Josh Lederman contributed.



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Boris Johnson tells jab-sceptic Brazilian President to get 'great' AstraZeneca vaccine

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BORIS JOHNSON has told the jab-sceptic Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to get a dose of the “great” Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine.

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