A top aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt directed staffers to consider opening an office in Pruitt's Oklahoma hometown -- before joining the agency's staff, according to congressional Democrats.
Citing government emails, the Democrats say the direction from Pruitt's now-chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, came more than two weeks before Pruitt was confirmed to lead the agency and paralleled improvements eventually made to Pruitt's Washington office.
EPA staffers believed the request was "coming directly from Administrator Pruitt," the lawmakers wrote in one of two letters they made public on Tuesday. The staffers sent the request to the General Services Administration, which handles leases.
"In the email, Mr. Jackson directed EPA staff to identify proposed new office space in Tulsa that included a conference room, secure parking, would be able to accommodate 24/7 security, and included a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for secure communications," Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and Donald Beyer of Virginia, all Democrats on the House Science Committee, wrote in the letter to Emily Murphy, the GSA administrator. They sent a similar letter to Pruitt.
After taking office, Pruitt began receiving around-the-clock protection from an EPA security team, and a closet in his office at EPA headquarters was converted into a soundproof booth. Pruitt testified at congressional hearings that he uses the $43,000 booth for secure communications.
In response to CNN's request for comment, the EPA said it has a small Tulsa satellite office but that Pruitt has never used it.
"Since 2012, there is an EPA office in Tulsa for two EPA employees when they need to work remotely. This location is not practical or usable for Administrator Pruitt's business and he has never used this office," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement.
Wilcox did not mention the Jackson email.
The members of Congress did not specify how they came to review the emails, and they did not release them publicly. But they did say Jackson sent the request on January 31, 2017, from his Senate email account. Before joining the EPA, Jackson was a Republican staffer for a Senate committee.
Pruitt's frequent travel to Oklahoma at taxpayer expense was his first move that draw attention from government watchdogs. Agency calendars show that Pruitt repeatedly scheduled meetings or facility tours in Oklahoma, and would then spend the weekend at his home there.
The EPA inspector general opened an audit of his Tulsa travel that eventually expanded into all of his 2017 travel, including expensive trips to Morocco and Italy.
Pruitt has since drawn scrutiny for several other controversial decisions, including the 24/7 security detail, a below-market-rate lease from an energy industry lobbyist and massive raises given to close aides, one of whom he described as a friend.