WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. lawmakers asked embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday to provide documents about ethics issues they said were revealed to them by a former agency official, including spending on bulletproof vests, weapons and a contract with an Italian security service.
The Democrats, including Senators Tom Carper, Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Elijah Cummings, met with Kevin Chmielewski, a longtime supporter of President Donald Trump and a former chief of staff for operations at the EPA, who spoke out against Pruitt, his former boss.
In a letter to Pruitt, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, the lawmakers said Chmielewski provided them examples of wasteful spending on bulletproof vests, weapons, biometric locks and at least one SUV for Pruitt’s travel that could have been obtained from the General Services Administration.
The letter had no further details on the weapons or why the spending on them was wasteful. Congressional aides said the purchases were for a type of gun meant for security detail. Agents who work for the EPA’s criminal enforcement division carry guns as do security staff.
Chmielewski told the lawmakers that Nino Perrotta, the special agent who leads Pruitt’s security detail, entered into a $30,000 contract with private Italian security personnel during a trip Pruitt took to Italy. The total cost of that week-long trip last summer has been estimated at over $80,000 by an EPA watchdog group.
Chmielewski also told the lawmakers that Pruitt’s travel destinations were often dictated by his desire to visit cities or countries, rather than official business, “and that you tell your staff to ‘find me something to do’” in those locations to justify the use of taxpayer funds, the letter said.
The lawmakers also said Chmielewski described an environment at the EPA in which Pruitt sought to “marginalize, remove or otherwise retaliate” against employees who advised him not to make such expenditures, or refused to take actions Pruitt directed that they considered ethically questionable.
Chmielewski disputed claims Pruitt made this month on Fox News that he did not know about controversial salary raises given to two close aides until after the fact. The White House had rejected requests for the raises, including one for boosting the salary of Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s scheduling director, by $29,000 to above $114,000. But the EPA then used authority it has under a clean water law to grant the raises. The raises were “100 percent Pruitt himself,” the former official said, according to the letter.
“We will respond to members of Congress through the proper channel,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.
Republican lawmakers are also looking into allegations of Pruitt’s ethics lapses. On Wednesday, Trey Gowdy, the head of the House of Representatives’ oversight committee, told Pruitt his agency has not provided all the documents it has requested about Pruitt’s expensive air travel, including ones related to any threats made on Pruitt that the agency has said necessitated first class air tickets.
Trump has supported Pruitt, who has slashed regulations in line with the president’s policy to boost energy production, but has said he would take a look into the allegations.
The Democrats also sent a letter to Trump about Chmielewski’s allegations, urging him to speak with the former official and examine relevant documents about Pruitt. The Democrats said in the letter to Trump that Chmielewski told them he spoke out against Pruitt because regardless of political party “right is right, and wrong is wrong.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio