New details have emerged about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s condo deal with the wife of an energy industry lobbyist, raising fresh questions about the ethics of the rental arrangement.
According to the Associated Press, the original lease agreement for the condo — which Pruitt rented for $50 a night for a period of about six months during his first year in Washington — had the name of Steven Hart, the energy industry lobbyist, as the landlord.
Steven’s name was apparently crossed out, and his wife Vicki’s name was written in instead. Vicki is a health care lobbyist who doesn’t have any connected companies with business before the EPA; Steven, on the other hand, is chairman of Williams & Jensen, a lobbying firm that counts among its clients energy companies like ExxonMobil and Canadian pipeline company Enbridge.
Odd that the landlord on the lease is a crossed out "S̶t̶e̶v̶e̶" Hart, replaced by "Vicki" Hart. Energy lobbyist Steve Hart previously said “I have no ownership interest.” https://t.co/NOfcEFDkmW pic.twitter.com/ucP7gRoUH5
— Phil McKenna (@mckennapr) April 5, 2018
When ABC News broke the condo story last week, Steven Hart denied having any ownership of the unit, saying instead that his wife co-owns the condo with an unspecified second party.
But the lease agreement reported by the AP suggests that Steven Hart had a more hands-on approach to the condo.
According to federal lobbying disclosures, Hart’s firm was involved in lobbying on issues related to energy and EPA regulations while Pruitt was staying in the condo. The New York Times has also reported that the EPA signed off on a pipeline connected to Hart’s lobbying firm while Pruitt was living at the condo.
It’s also unclear why the lease was changed, why the change was not initialed, and why the mistake was left on the lease rather than having a new lease drawn up.
Pruitt has said that the EPA signed off on the ethics of the agreement before he moved into the condo, saying that the $50 per night rate was found to be at market value for similar properties nearby.
But a memo sent on April 4 by Kevin Minoli, a top ethics official in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel, said that the agency lacked crucial details about the deal that might have changed their calculus — namely, that Pruitt’s daughter apparently also stayed at the condo while interning at the White House last summer, making the $50 a night deal well-below market value for two people.
Minoli’s memo also said that the initial ethics designation was based purely on the terms of the lease, and did not take into account any issues related to the impartiality rule, which “requires an employee to consider appearance concerns before participating in a particular matter if someone close to the employee is involved as a party to that matter.”
Pruitt has faced calls to resign over the condo scandal from both Democrats and Republicans. On Wednesday, when asked whether the president was okay with Pruitt’s condo agreement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the president “is not” and that the White House was looking into the details of the agreement.
Still, even as the scandal deepens, Pruitt continues to go about his work pushing the administration’s deregulatory agenda. On Tuesday, he announced that the EPA would be reconsidering fuel efficiency standards set under the Obama administration, and has teased an announcement regarding the EPA’s regulation of certain air pollutants that could come as soon as Friday.