Trump praises EPA chief Pruitt under fire for ethics, spending

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised the job being done by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who is under fire over ethics and spending issues.

FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2019 for the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

“EPA is doing really, really well,” Trump said at an event at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters attended by Pruitt. “Somebody has to say that about you a little bit, you know that, Scott.”

Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for Pruitt, who has vigorously pursued Trump’s campaign promises to reduce environmental regulations and increase fossil fuel production.

But there have been mounting ethics concerns about Pruitt. The EPA chief has been criticized for paying below-market rent on a lobbyist-owned condominium, for his routine use of first-class travel, excessive spending on security and costly office renovations.

More than 100 lawmakers, including several Republicans, have called for Pruitt to step down.

This week, congressional Democrats released the transcript of an interview in which Millan Hupp, a close aide to Pruitt, said the administrator had her carry out personal errands, including researching the purchase of an old mattress from the Trump International Hotel.

Hupp and another close aide, Sarah Greenwalt, resigned on Wednesday, the EPA said. Hupp’s resignation was first reported by The Atlantic magazine.

Pruitt in a statement called Hupp a “valued member of the EPA team from day one.”

The Washington Post reported this week that Pruitt asked his EPA scheduler to arrange a meeting last year with the chief executive of the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A.

Pruitt eventually spoke with the company’s legal department about his wife, Marilyn, opening a franchise, the Post reported.

A representative for Chick-fil-A said Pruitt’s wife started but did not complete a franchisee application, according to the newspaper.

Asked about the report, Pruitt did not directly comment on whether he sought a franchise for his wife, according to an excerpt of an interview with Nexstar Media Group posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Chick-fil-A is a franchise of faith and it’s one of the best in the country, and so, that’s something we were very excited about, so, and we need more of them in Tulsa and we need more of them across the country,” said Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general.

The company and the EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

“Scott Pruitt cannot shift the blame for his scandals to his aides or career EPA employees, said Democratic Representative Don Beyer, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “The corruption begins with Scott Pruitt, and it must end with his resignation or firing.”

Reporting by Eric Beech and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Peter Cooney