EPA ethics official pushed for Pruitt investigations

A top Environmental Protection Agency ethics official disclosed in a letter to the US Office of Government Ethics that he has referred “potential issues” related to agency chief Scott Pruitt to the EPA’s internal watchdog for investigation.

In the June 27 letter, a copy of which was reviewed by CNN, Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s principal deputy general counsel and designated agency ethics official, wrote that “potential issues regarding Mr. Pruitt have come to my attention through sources within EPA and media reports” and that he has “referred a number of those matters to EPA’s Inspector General.”

The New York Times first reported Saturday on the letter, which was sent to David Apol, the acting director and general counsel for the US Office of Government Ethics.

Pruitt’s leadership at EPA has been the subject of intense scrutiny as he faces criticism and questions over his spending habits and ethical judgment. He is facing multiple inquiries into his actions as EPA administrator from ethics watchdogs, federal auditors and congressional committees.

An EPA spokesperson said in a statement to CNN that the letter “reports back to the OGE on a number of administrative and staffing issues, some of which predate the Trump Administration.”

“The Agency has taken early steps to address some of the concerns the OGE raised well before this letter was sent last week, including the hiring of two additional ethics officials and ongoing ethics training and retraining for EPA staff,” the statement said. “Assigning new ethics staff within the OGC (Office of General Counsel) was necessary especially at the beginning of the new Administration to evaluate recusals, disclosures, and other ethics reviews involved in hiring new political appointees. Part of the remainder of the letter discusses cooperation with the OIG, a normal course of business for any agency, and the entire EPA is always responsive to the OIG and their requests for information.”

The letter does not specify what “potential issues” regarding Pruitt have been referred for examination. But the Times, citing a federal official with firsthand knowledge of the inquiries, reported that one issue Minoli has recommended be investigated is Pruitt’s decision to rent a room in a condo owned by the wife of a lobbyist.

Minoli, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and the Office of Government Ethics did not immediately return requests for comment.

After Pruitt’s living arrangements came under scrutiny, Minoli initially said that the rental was within federal ethics regulations regarding gifts, but later clarified that analysis to say that he didn’t have all the facts when evaluating the lease.