GOP lawmaker dismisses Scott Pruitt’s security justifications for exorbitant travel spending

House Oversight Committee chairman ratchets up investigations into EPA chief's lavish spending on travel.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing more intense scrutiny of his spending habits. CREDIT: Jason Andrew/Getty Images
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing more intense scrutiny of his spending habits. CREDIT: Jason Andrew/Getty Images

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is ratcheting up his investigations into Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt in the wake of ongoing allegations of profligate spending of taxpayers’ money by the agency.

Gowdy is particularly troubled by Pruitt’s level of spending on first-class travel. If it’s security that concerns Pruitt, the EPA chief would be just as safe flying in the back of an airplane because most people wouldn’t recognize him, the Republican congressman said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

Pruitt has stated that he flies first class or on military jets at taxpayer expense due to security reasons. “We’ve had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April time frame,” Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader in February.

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On numerous occasions, Pruitt has been approached at airports “to the point of profanities being yelled at him and so forth,” Henry Barnet, director of the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico in February.

Gowdy isn’t buying Pruitt’s reasoning for needing to fly first class. “I’d be shocked if that many people knew who Scott Pruitt was,” he said.

“So the notion that I’ve got to fly first class because I don’t want people to be mean to me — you need to go into another line of work if you don’t want people to be mean to you, like maybe a monk where you don’t come into contact with anyone,” Gowdy argued.

In his role as House Oversight Committee chairman, Gowdy on Friday demanded interviews with five top aides to Pruitt. The lawmaker cited “new information” his committee had obtained regarding Pruitt’s official travel and his housing rental agreement last year with the wife of an energy lobbyist.

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Gowdy is also seeking documents from the EPA on the changes last year to round-the-clock security protection for Pruitt, contracts to sweep Pruitt’s office for electronic surveillance, his trips to Italy and Morocco, and travel by Pruitt’s security chief.

Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, flew coach, and was not accompanied by security during her personal trips. Pruitt’s 24-hour security reportedly has extended to personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl in California.

The Associated Press reported that Pruitt spent millions on a full-time security detail with 20 members, which is three times the size of the part-time detail McCarthy used.

“The reason the Oversight Committee wants to know whether or not the EPA is a good steward of taxpayer money is because Congress created the EPA; we fund the EPA,” Gowdy said in the Sunday morning interview. “It is entirely legitimate for us to ask, ‘Are you being good stewards of the American taxpayer dollar?'”

Gowdy said he has become concerned about whether Pruitt’s explanations for his spending as EPA administrator are credible.

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Pointing to Congress’s jurisdiction over the federal Office of Government Ethics, Gowdy also stressed it is appropriate for his committee to look into Pruitt’s apartment lease with the wife of an energy lobbyist.

Even though Pruitt paid a $50-per-day rental rate, not a monthly rate, the apartment was not available to any other tenants during the period in 2017 that Pruitt had access to it. Pruitt’s relationship with the lobbyist couple — Vicki and Steven Hart — goes back years. The couple donated $4,366 to Pruitt’s campaigns for Oklahoma attorney general and his federal leadership political action committee.