During a Senate Appropriate Committee hearing on Wednesday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt accidentally admitted to violating federal ethics guidelines by having an EPA subordinate help him house-hunt during her “personal time” without compensation.
Pruitt copped to the violation under questioning from Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), who pointed out that “it’s been reported that a member of your staff, one who got a 33 percent raise to over $114,000 earlier this year, house-hunted for you during work hours.”
According to The Washington Post, that staffer is 26-year-old Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s director of scheduling, who followed Pruitt to the EPA and received a large raise earlier this year that was rejected by the White House. (EPA staff used a work-around to grant Hupp a raise anyway.)
Hupp house-hunting for Pruitt during work hours “would be a violation of federal rules as well as a misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Udall said. “Did your staff contact realtors and arrange tours for you during work hours, yes or no?”
As he did repeatedly throughout the hearing, Pruitt attempted to dodge the question.
“It’s my understanding that all activity there was on personal time, and the individual that you are referring to is a longtime friend of my wife, and myself,” Pruitt said. “To link any review on a pay increase is just simply not substantiated. It’s not related at all.”
Udall pointed out that Pruitt — the former attorney general Oklahoma — should have known better.
“You were an AG, a law enforcement officer — CFR regulations prohibit directing a subordinate to do personal work for you, and if they volunteer that’s a gift,” Udall said. “Services must be paid for at fair market value, so it doesn’t cut it that ‘they’re a friend’ or that kind of thing. Did you pay them at the time for doing that work?”
Pruitt again tried to dodge, reiterating that “all activity that I’m aware of that was engaged in by the individual you are speaking about occurred in personal time.”
“And you you pay them for it?” Udall pressed.
“No, I did not,” Pruitt replied.
“Then that’s a gift that’s in violation of federal law,” Udall concluded.
Watch the exchange for yourself:
Later, Udall asked Pruitt to commit to turning over all email correspondence related to his housing search. Pruitt did, but with a major caveat.
“Yes — with the clarification that obviously it would be EPA email, emails from the agencies. That’s what I trust you are asking for,” he said.
“Well, I’m asking for any emails that relate to this, but yeah, emails from the agency, that’s included,” Udall replied.
The hearing ultimately moved on without Pruitt agreeing to turn over everything. Watch:
The hearing began with Udall telling Pruitt that “every day there seems to be a new scandal, and you at dead-center… your tenure at the EPA is a betrayal of the American people.”
Despite the myriad scandals, President Trump has stood by Pruitt’s side. In response to a reporter’s question last Friday, Trump affirmed that he still has confidence in his EPA boss.