Fired EPA staffer tells Democrats that Pruitt directed more spending on travel
Jason Andrew/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A fired Environmental Protection Agency staffer met with congressional Democrats this week to answer questions about administrator Scott Pruitt’s ethics scandals, accusing the embattled Trump appointee of flouting spending guidelines to stay at pricey hotels overseas and planning trips based on preference rather than agency business.
Kevin Chmielewski was the deputy chief of staff for operations at the agency but told Democrats that he and others were pushed out of the agency for refusing to approve the excessive spending. He told the group that he believes he was ultimately fired for refusing to approve a first-class flight from Morocco for one of Pruitt’s top policy aides, Samantha Dravis, who has since said that she will resign.
Two senators and three members of Congress met with Chmielewski this week and wrote to Pruitt on Thursday asking for documents that relate to spending decisions at the agency. In a letter to Pruitt, they detail some of the allegations that Pruitt requested more spending than was necessary on travel and security and ask the agency to provide any documents that exist on those decisions.
The Democrats, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, also wrote to President Donald Trump urging him to continue the White House inquiry into questions about Pruitt, saying that from Trump’s public statements he might not have all the facts.
“It will become clear that the right course of action, in this case, is to hold Administrator Pruitt accountable for his serious ethical lapses and to restore honest, competent leadership to EPA,” they wrote in the letter to the president.
The EPA did not immediately respond to the new details in the letter but the agency has said that all travel decisions are approved by ethics officials and that some of the spending, like first-class flights, was requested by Pruitt’s security detail in response to increased threats against him. Pruitt recently told CBS News that he would direct his staff to find an option that allowed him to fly in coach.
Pruitt and the EPA have also said that all of Pruitt’s trips to Oklahoma were on agency business.
The Thursday letters are signed by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Tom Carper, D-Del., and Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, and Elijah Cummings, who is the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee.
The Republican chairman of that committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, has also been looking into questions about Pruitt’s spending and asked the EPA to produce more documents in a letter on Wednesday.
Almost 100 Democrats and three Republicans have publicly called for Pruitt to resign or be fired over questions about his housing arrangement and spending. Two of the members that signed on to this letter, Connolly and Beyer, have also said Pruitt should step down.
Chmielewski told the group that Pruitt directed his staff to find reasons for him to travel back to his home state of Oklahoma and that international trips were decided based on Pruitt’s “desire to visit particular cities” rather than official business. He said that Pruitt told his staff to “find something to do” in those places to justify the trip and that the administrator preferred to fly Delta to accrue frequent flier miles instead of other carriers where the government has negotiated a cheaper rate.
In one example, the letter says that Chmielewski said Pruitt frequently stayed at hotels that exceeded the government recommended rate and that when planning international trips Pruitt refused to stay at hotels recommended by the U.S. Embassy because the hotel had law enforcement and security.
Chmielewski said instead of following the embassy’s recommendation, Pruitt requested more expensive hotels and brought your own security team at taxpayer expense and that even when spending on hotels for these trips exceeded the government recommended rate by 300 percent some of the security detail would have to pay out of pocket and would not be reimbursed.
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