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Pruitt under fire for $100,000 Morocco trip

CNN's Rene Marsh reports on EPA chief Scott Pruitt's $100,000 trip to Morocco that was partially arranged by a former lobbyist.

Posted: May 3, 2018 7:42 AM
Updated: May 3, 2018 7:42 AM

Ethics watchdogs, federal auditors and congressional committees are conducting nearly a dozen inquiries into Administrator Scott Pruitt's actions at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The probes are reviewing his travel expenses, personal security, and other allegations of ethical concerns, such as Pruitt's below-market-rate lease with a lobbyist couple, one of whom represented a client before the EPA.

Pruitt and the EPA have largely defended his actions, saying decisions were made by his subordinates and that, in some cases, "processes will be changed going forward."

"I'm not afraid to admit there's been a learning process and when Congress or independent bodies of oversight find fault in our decision making, I want to correct that and ensure that it does not happen again," Pruitt told lawmakers at a recent hearing.

Here are the probes into Pruitt:

Travel: The EPA inspector general is currently reviewing all of Pruitt's travel last year. That audit is believed to include multiple taxpayer-funded weekend trips to his home state of Oklahoma as well as trips to Italy and Morocco.

Security detail: The inspector general announced in April it will begin another probe into Pruitt's travel practices, suggesting it will review Pruitt's use of his unprecedented 24/7 security detail while on family vacations.

First class travel: The Republican House Oversight Committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, has asked EPA to justify Pruitt's use of first class or business class seats on flights. Earlier this spring, Gowdy said Pruitt was not being forthcoming with records.

Condo: Gowdy is also looking into Pruitt's below-market-rate lease of a DC condo from a lobbyist couple, one of whom represents clients before the EPA. The inspector general has also acknowledged concerns about the condo and the "use of the Administrator's subordinates' time," which appears to be a reference to reports the EPA scheduling director contacted real estate agents while on the clock. The condo lease also drew scrutiny from the Office of Government Ethics, which urged EPA to "take action to appropriately address any violations."

Raises and hiring: Even before news broke of large raises for two political aides, the inspector general was auditing how Pruitt's team used special hiring authority to fill policy-making jobs.

Demotions and reassignments: The inspector general said in a recent letter to Congress it is aware of "reassignment or demotion of staff who were attempting to ensure that expenses and other actions were in accordance with the law" and will consider the allegations.

Sound proof booth: The Government Accountability Office concluded the $43,000 purchase and installation of a privacy booth for Pruitt's office violated federal spending law. Pruitt has said he uses the booth to receive classified information and hold calls with the White House. The White House, through its Office of Management and Budget, is reviewing the GAO report.

Mining meeting: The inspector general and Government Accountability Office are reviewing a meeting Pruitt held last April with the National Mining Association, where he was said to have encouraged members to urge President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Advisory board selections: The Government Accountability Office is also reviewing how the Pruitt administration has handled appointments to agency advisory committees. Democratic senators have raised questions about the qualifications and potential conflicts of interest for several appointees.

Email: A second Capitol Hill Republican -- Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, whose committee oversees the EPA — has requested agency records. He is looking into reports that Pruitt has four EPA email addresses, at least one of which was not disclosed.

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