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EPA watchdog opens probe into Scott Pruitt allegations

By Susan McFarland
EPA watchdog opens probe into Scott Pruitt allegations
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the Environment Subcommittee on in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. The EPA inspector general announced on Friday announced an investigation has been opened into ethical scandals allegedly committed by Pruitt. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

April 28 (UPI) -- The Environmental Protection Agency inspector general is looking into alleged ethical missteps from Administrator Scott Pruitt, including claims of a shady apartment rental deal, excessive spending and vengeful staff re-assignments.

The ethics reviews, explained in a letter to Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Don Beyer of Virginia, noted some matters into Pruitt's behavior could already be under review by the inspector general, "while others will be the impetus for new reviews."

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In the letter, which USA Today reported was released on Friday, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins confirmed a probe was opened to look into a lease Pruitt signed to rent a room on Capitol Hill for $50 a night.

"We have received multiple requests from multiple members of Congress, as well as other OIG Hotline complaints, regarding these same and related issues," Elkins wrote.

RELATED EPA chief Pruitt to lawmakers: 'I have nothing to hide'

The inspector general will also look into whether employees who attempted to raise red flags about Pruitt's spending were sidelined or demoted.

Earlier this month, a federal watchdog said Pruitt's agency broke the law when it spent $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth without first notifying Congress.

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The independent Government Accountability Office said the booth qualifies as a furnishing. Under federal law, the EPA is required to notify Senate and House appropriations committees in advance of any furnishing that costs taxpayers more than $5,000.

RELATED House oversight committee expands probe into EPA's Pruitt

Pruitt is also accused of excessive spending on travel, staying at expensive hotels while traveling -- even if they exceeded allowable federal spending limits -- and telling staff to book flights on Delta Air Lines so he could accrue frequent flier mileage.

After weeks of reports about those alleged unethical dealings, Pruitt came under fire from lawmakers Thursday while testifying on Capitol Hill.

In opening remarks at one of the hearings, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Pruitt brought secrecy, conflicts of interest and scandal to the EPA.

RELATED Watchdog: EPA chief's trip to Italy cost taxpayers $120,000

"In any other administration, Republican or Democrat, you would be long gone by now," Pallone told Pruitt, saying the EPA chief has caused "scandal after scandal."

"When confronted about them, you repeatedly failed to take responsibility for your actions," the Democrat added. "Instead, you've blamed your staff, your security detail, your critics -- pretty much anyone but yourself."

Pruitt refuted the criticisms after first touting efforts made at the EPA during his time in the Trump administration.

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"Facts are facts, fiction is fiction and a lie doesn't become true just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper," Pruitt said Thursday. "Much of what has been targeted at me or my team has been half-truths or stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality."

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