The Oklahoma Bar Association on Thursday opened an investigation into whether Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt lied to Congress under oath.
Pruitt has been asked to respond to the inquiry, which will look into possible ethics violations stemming from his confirmation hearing in January, when he testified that he only ever used his professional email account to conduct official business while serving as Oklahoma attorney general.
Following the investigation, the association's Professional Responsibility Commission will determine whether to take disciplinary action against Pruitt.
The probe was launched in response to a formal ethics complaint (pdf) filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos.
Pruitt's testimony was proven false after a lawsuit filed in February by the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy forced the release of thousands of pages of his emails, which showed that he had used his personal account to carry out official communications multiple times.
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"I'm very pleased the Oklahoma Bar Association has agreed to investigate this matter," said CBD senior attorney Amy Atwood. "Lying to Congress is a serious ethical breach, and it doesn't help that Pruitt's use of private emails reflect potential collusion with the very oil and gas industry he's now supposed to be regulating."
Indeed, the emails exposed a cozy relationship between Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry, including private communications with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-funded conservative lobbying group, and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).
One message from the AFPM asked Pruitt to use his position as attorney general to roll back renewable fuel standards that were set by the Obama administration.
Federal rules prohibit the use of private emails for official business because it exposes offices to hacking and can lead to the loss of government records.
"As a law professor and a member of the legal profession, I take the ethical standards very seriously," said van de Biezenbos. "But such rules are only meaningful when they are fully enforced."