Scott Pruitt resignation: Top five controversies Trump's environment chief was involved in

Pruitt, who has been in news for months on end for multiple ethical scandals, resigned a day after he joined Trump and other officials at the White House for July 4th celebration

                            Scott Pruitt resignation: Top five controversies Trump's environment chief was involved in
Scott Pruitt (Source:Getty Images)

President Donald Trump announced the resignation of his most controversial cabinet secretaries, Scott Pruitt, on Thursday, tweeting that Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, will temporarily take on his role as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief.

Pruitt, who has been in news for months on end for multiple ethical scandals, reportedly resigned a day after he joined Trump and other administration officials at the White House for the Fourth of July celebrations.  

Although Pruitt has proved to be a key figure in effectively carrying out important elements of President Trump's agenda — by overseeing a rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations on climate change — the EPA chief, however, has remained a controversial figure throughout his term.

Pruitt has been involved in a series of scandals ranging from his conduct in office to misuse of office resources. Trump's EPA chief has faced intense scrutiny for potential ethical lapses connected to his spending, travel expenses on the job, treatment of staff, housing and his relationships with energy leaders.

Here's a look at the top five controversies the EPA chief has been involved in during his time in the Trump administration:

Travel expenses

Pruitt's travel practices came under scrutiny after reports emerged that the EPA chief frequently traveled home to Oklahoma on taxpayers' money. The EPA also acknowledged that Pruitt used a private plane and a military jet to travel at least four times, instead of using a commercial flight, at a price of $60,000 in 2017 alone.

A probe was opened last year by the EPA inspector general into Pruitt's travel to his home state and was later expanded to include other allegations.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, in February this year also announced an inquiry into Pruitt's practices after the EPA failed to turn over travel waivers given to Pruitt for his series of first-class flight tickets.

Pruitt reportedly defended taking first-class tickets, stating that he did it for security purposes. He claimed that he faced danger considering the "toxic environment" in politics and argued that traveling first class would make him feel safer. 

An additional traveling expenses totaling nearly $68,000 was also reported in March by The Washington Post in documents provided by the EPA to the Congress. The expenses also included a $20,000 four-day trip to Morocco. 

Ties with energy industry lobbyists

A report by ABC News in March stated that Pruitt lived for nearly six months in a condo in Capitol Hill which was co-owned by a health care lobbyist, Viki Hart, whose husband Steven Hart — a top energy industry lobbyist — has lobbied the EPA. Reports state that Pruitt paid well below the market rate for the apartment, which was a regular fund-raising venue for Republicans.

A probe was carried out in the incident and a former deputy chief of staff told congressional investigators that Hart had called Pruitt's chief of staff to complain that the EPA chief was behind on rent. CNN later cited a source saying that the lobbyist couple eventually evicted Pruitt from the condo by changing its lock code.

An email exchange between Pruit's chief of staff and Hart also suggested that the energy lobbyist's family friend was considered for a position with the environment agency.

Attitude towards staff personnel 

Pruitt's disparaging attitude towards his staff personnel emerged after The New York Times and The Washington Post reported accounts of Pruitt's top aides who spokes with the House Oversight Committee investigators last month in June. The aides told the committee that the EPA chief often assigned them with personal tasks.

The tasks reportedly included finding a job for his wife Marlyn Pruitt with the Republican Attorneys General Association. 

While talking to the committee, a Pruitt staffer Millan Hupp, said that she was asked to assist Pruitt and his wife in finding rental properties. She also added that she was once asked to reach out to the Trump International Hotel in Washinton because Pruitt thought there was "an old mattress that he could purchase." The staffer eventually resigned from her position last month. 

The Post, in a recent article, cited some current and former officials at the EPA, and stated that their chief "routinely" asked his staff to put reservations for him on their credit cards. 

Security detail

Pruitt had reportedly requested a full 24/7 security detail days after he was confirmed as the EPA chief, according to a letter from the agency's inspector general. The Post, in June, reported that the EPA chief would often ask his security detail to run a series of personal errands, which included driving him around to find a lotion from Ritz-Carlton hotels. 

A letter was sent to the EPA inspector general by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse stating that Pruitt's constant security also included personal trips to the Rose Bowl and Disneyland. House Democrats later wrote a letter in June asking for an inquiry into the Rose Bowl tickets.

The Democrats reportedly asked about the source of the tickets, which reportedly came from the head of a PR firm that represents energy companies. The letter also requested information about how many tickets the EPA chief had received and how were the tickets requested.

Documents from the EPA also showed that Pruitt spent over $30,000 on security during his 2017 trip to Italy. The documents were reportedly obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project. 

Violation of spending laws

The White House budget office opened an investigation in April on the EPA's spending of $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth for Pruitt's office.

The new probe came days after the General Accountability Office (GAO) said that the EPA had violated spending laws by not giving advance notification to the Congress about the purchase of a secure telecommunications booth.

Pruitt's environment agency was found in violation of the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies from sending government funds in advance. Violation of this law could result in suspension from duty without pay or removal from office, as well as fines and imprisonment.

Pruitt, in his resignation letter to President Trump, reportedly said that it has been an "honor" to serve in the Republican's administration and that the "unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us."

The EPA chief reportedly added in his letter to Trump that his "desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence."