April 5, 2018 / 2:38 PM / 21 days ago

EPA ethics watchdog says Pruitt condo review didn't cover 'impartiality'

April 5 (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency’s ethics office said its recent review of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Washington apartment rental cleared him of accepting a gift from a lobbyist but did not address whether he broke other federal ethics regulations such as the “impartiality rule.”

Pruitt is facing scrutiny from lawmakers, some of whom have called for his resignation, for renting a room in a high-end Washington neighborhood for $50 a night in a town house co-owned by the wife of energy industry lobbyist Steven Hart.

Hart lobbies for companies regulated by the EPA.

The EPA’s ethics office reached the conclusion late last month that Pruitt’s lease did not constitute a “prohibited gift” because a number of other rooms nearby are available for rent for a similar or lower price. But it clarified in an April 4 memo, which was seen by Reuters, that its review did not consider whether Pruitt had violated other ethics rules with the lease.

Kevin Minoli, a top ethics official in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel, said in the memo that the review did not address other portions of the federal ethics regulations, such as the impartiality rule.

“It is important to note that the federal ethics regulations regarding impartiality apply regardless of whether something involves receiving a prohibited gift,” he wrote.

The impartiality rule requires government officials avoid doing things that could create an “appearance of favoritism in government decision-making,” according to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

Minoli also said in the memo he did not have access to enough information to determine whether Pruitt’s actual use of the space was consistent with the lease.

CNN first reported on the memo late on Wednesday.

Pruitt, a vocal doubter of mainstream climate change science, is also under fire for his frequent first-class air travel, and his spending on costly items in his office, including a soundproof telephone booth.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that White House officials are investigating the condo deal. When asked if President Donald Trump was OK with the deal, Sanders said: “The president is not.”

Trump expressed support for Pruitt earlier this week even as U.S. lawmakers, including two fellow Republicans, called for his resignation over the ethics questions. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner Editing by Bill Trott)

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