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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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Nicola Sturgeon blasted by Lord who says SNP leader 'doesn't want a referendum'

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NICOLA STURGEON “doesn’t want an independence referendum”, a former Scottish secretary has sensationally claimed.

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BBC QT: Michelle Dewberry clashes with Lisa Nandy over Brexit – ‘Who do you represent?’

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LABOUR’s Lisa Nandy and former Brexit party politician Michelle Dewberry clashed during BBC Question Time on Thursday.

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Arizona Senate Republicans sign lease to continue vote audit

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PHOENIX — Republicans in the Arizona Senate have signed a lease to continue their slow-moving audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County through the end of June.

The state Senate and its contractors had rented the Veterans Memorial Coliseum through Friday, when they must vacate the old basketball arena because it is booked for high school graduations next week.

Republicans have hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity firm, to oversee an unprecedented, partisan review of the 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county. They are conducting a hand recount of all 2.1 million ballots and looking into baseless conspiracy theories suggesting there were problems with the election, which have grown popular with supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Under the new lease signed Wednesday, the ballots, computers, tables and related equipment will be stored elsewhere at the state fairgrounds next week. The Senate will regain access to the coliseum on May 23 and have it through the end of June.

The effort has gone far slower than expected, and only a fraction of the ballots have been counted. The audit was to stop Thursday evening, then packing would begin and continue into Friday, said Ken Bennett, a former Republican secretary of state who is serving as the Senate’s liaison to the auditors.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s top election official, has asked the Senate to detail its plans for keeping ballots secure while they are in storage.

Meanwhile, Senate President Karen Fann sent a letter Wednesday to Jack Sellers, chairman of the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, requesting that county officials publicly answer questions at the Senate on Tuesday, but she stopped short of her threat to issue subpoenas.

Fann repeated the Senate’s demand for access to administrative passwords for vote-counting machines and internet routers. County officials say they have turned over all the passwords they have and have refused to give up the routers, saying it would compromise sensitive data, including classified law enforcement information held by the sheriff’s office.

Fann proposed allowing its contractor to view data from the routers at county facilities under supervision of the sheriff’s office. “The Senate has no interest in viewing or taking possession of any information that is unrelated to the administration of the 2020 general election,” she wrote.

The county says the passwords the Senate is seeking are maintained by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., which makes the vote-counting machines and leases them to the county. The company said in a statement Thursday that it cooperates with auditors certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and did so for two prior audits of 2020 results in Maricopa County, but won’t work with Cyber Ninjas.

“Releasing Dominion’s intellectual property to an unaccredited, biased, and plainly unreliable actor such as Cyber Ninjas would be reckless, causing irreparable damage to the commercial interests of the company and the election security interests of the country,” Dominion’s statement said. “No company should be compelled to participate in such an irresponsible act.”

Fann’s letter also questions the county’s records that document the chain of custody of the ballots and accuses county officials of deleting data.

In a statement, Trump called it “a devastating letter” and said “the Fake News and Lamestream Media is doing everything they can not to cover this major story.”

The Board of Supervisors met in private late Thursday, after which Sellers issued a blistering statement denying that any data was deleted, calling Fann’s allegations “false and ill-informed” and demanding a retraction.

“It’s clearer by the day: the people hired by the Senate are in way over their heads,” Sellers said. “This is not funny; this is dangerous.”

He did not directly respond to Fann’s request for county officials to answer questions at the Senate on Tuesday, but said the county will hold its own public meeting the day before “to refute lies and lay out facts about these issues.”

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