Trump meets with Pruitt amid mounting controversy

The couple that rented out a room to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt forced him out by cha...

Posted: Apr 7, 2018 2:32 PM
Updated: Apr 7, 2018 2:32 PM

The couple that rented out a room to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt forced him out by changing the code on their locks after becoming increasingly frustrated with him as a tenant, a source familiar with the arrangement confirmed to CNN.

The source said the apartment has keypads, so it was merely a matter of changing the code.

Pruitt signed a lease that ran from the end of February through April 1, according to the source. Instead, Pruitt was still there until August 4, the source alleged.

Pruitt has been criticized over renting a room in Washington, DC, from a lobbyist couple whose firm has lobbied the EPA on behalf of an Oklahoma energy company, ABC News and Bloomberg reported. CNN previously reported that the news about the arrangement has left senior White House aides exasperated.

According to Bloomberg, Pruitt leased the room for around $50 a night, only paying for nights when he stayed there. In total, Pruitt paid $6,100 for the room over six months, a rate significantly lower than market value. CNN confirmed that Pruitt's landlords, Vicki and Steven Hart, were political donors to Pruitt when he was an Oklahoma state official.

The source said the Harts tried in a nice was way to tell Pruitt that it was time to leave, and learned of some texts Vicki Hart sent with some alternative condos where Pruitt could live. The source said the texts were meant to be a hint that it was time to go.

But the source said Pruitt still just didn't get the picture. At that point, they changed the code on the apartment, effectively locking him out.

Politico was first to report on the changed locks.

The source said it is believed Pruitt liked the rate he was getting on the $50 per night apartment because he was getting a good deal. Despite the favorable deal, the source said Pruitt was "slow to pay" the rent.

The Harts are not commenting. CNN has reached out to the EPA for comment.

President Donald Trump met with the controversy-ridden Environmental Protection Agency head on Friday, a senior White House official confirmed to CNN.

The official said the meeting had previously been scheduled and focused on policy issues, including Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for cars and light trucks.

Their meeting comes as Pruitt has been the focal point of several headlines questioning his ethical discernment -- just the latest embattled Trump administration official following a series of scandals, including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and recently fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

On Thursday, CNN reported that multiple senior EPA officials, including a career official and political appointees, were sidelined or demoted after they raised concerns or pushed back on the amount of money Pruitt had spent as head of the agency.

But despite the laundry list of controversies that have arisen over the past year involving Pruitt, the White House says the President is continuing to stand behind him, lauding his work at the head of the EPA.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters during Friday's press briefing that Trump believes Pruitt has done a good job at the EPA and "restored it back to its original purpose of protecting the environment. It's got unnecessary regulations out of the way."

She said the administration is continuing to review the reports of Pruitt's spending and misconduct.

When asked if the President is being advised to fire Pruitt, Sanders said, "No one other than the President has the authority to hire and fire members of the Cabinet. It's a decision he'll make."

Sanders wouldn't address the specifics a potential Pruitt firing. "I'm not going to walk through hypotheticals until we have time to go through a full review. That's what we're doing right now. But again, the President thinks he's done a good job on the purpose of carrying out the goals of the EPA," she said.

The White House's support comes as Trump has been hearing directly from supporters of Pruitt, including oil and gas magnate Harold Hamm.

A person familiar with the conversation said Hamm urged the President in at least one conversation this week to consider what substantive moves Pruitt has made at the EPA when determining his fate, not simply the scandals making daily headlines. Hamm is the latest in a string of conservative supporters to come to Pruitt's defense, including The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

Hamm, a major Trump donor who sat in a VIP box at the President's inauguration, is the founder and CEO of Continental Resources. He's one of the leading Oklahoma oil and gas executives who had a close relationship with Pruitt.

Two Republicans close to the White House say the conversation with Hamm -- a trusted friend and outside adviser of Trump, who he once considered nominating as energy secretary -- underscores why the Pruitt scandal is so different than other embattled Cabinet secretaries.

"His work at the EPA is more important than most anything else," one Republican familiar with the President's thinking said.

Pruitt has dutifully rolled back many Obama-era regulations. It's not lost on the President that confirming a new EPA administrator would be considerably challenging and would take months -- if it could even be done before the midterms.

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