With Scott Pruitt already struggling mightily—even on such favorable terrain as Fox News—to explain away the mountain of impropriety he has accumulated during his tenure as EPA chief, a White House ethics official made his problems even worse on Wednesday by walking back an earlier conclusion that Pruitt's room rental from the wife of an energy lobbyist didn't violate federal rules.
"I asked for an Inspector General investigation of Kevin Minoli at EPA because he wrote a misleading after-the-fact memo to cover up for Scott Pruitt. Now he is backtracking. Says he didn't have all the facts. Pruitt must resign."
—Rep. Ted LieuIn a memo obtained by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and shared with media outlets, Kevin Minoli, the EPA's top ethics official, explained that he didn't have all of the facts of Pruitt's "sweetheart" living arrangement when he determined that the rental did not run afoul of the gift ban.
For instance, as the Washington Post reported, "several EPA officials have confirmed that Pruitt's adult daughter stayed in the condo apartment's second bedroom for a period when she was working at the White House last year."
But Minoli notes that his initial conclusion did not examine this claim and was based solely on "the terms of the lease as they were written."
"Some have raised questions whether the actual use of the space was consistent with the terms of the lease," Minoli wrote. "Evaluating those questions would have required factual information that was not before us and the review does not address those questions."
Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics and current chief of CLC's ethics team, said in a statement on Wednesday that if Pruitt's daughter did stay in the condo and the landlord knew about it, that would be a clear violation of federal rules.
"If it turns out Pruitt’s daughter was staying in the other room, that's not covered by the ethics opinion because it's outside the scope of the lease," Shaub told CNN. "It would raise a factual question as to whether the landlord knew and permitted his use of the second room, which would be a gift."
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) argued in a tweet on Thursday that Minoli's backtracking provides yet another reason for Pruitt to step down:
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 5, 2018
Richard Painter, a former White House ethics official and vice-chair of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), called on Americans to pressure their representatives and the White House to oust "K Street B&B patron Scott Pruitt."
Call the White House, and your representative and senators, and demand that EPA Administrator and K Street B&B patron Scott Pruitt be fired NOW.
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) April 5, 2018
On the heels of Minoli's memo, the EPA inspector general's office confirmed on Thursday that it has launched an investigation into Pruitt's conduct—the fourth such probe since he took over the EPA last year.
"The IG is also investigating Pruitt's taxpayer-funded travel, his use of a special hiring authority, and his spending on a soundproof phone booth for his office," Politico noted on Thursday.
As calls for Pruitt to step down continue to grow on both sides of the political aisle and among green groups, Pruitt has attempted to defend himself on television—most recently in an interview with Ed Henry of Fox News.
The results have reportedly been viewed as disastrous by the White House.
Attempting to explain a recent pay raise he reportedly granted to his two "favorite" aides over the objections of the White House, Pruitt claimed he had no clue about the raises or who handed them out.
"You don't know? You run the agency. You don't know who did this?" Henry responded incredulously, noting that the two staffers just happen to be Pruitt's friends from Oklahoma.
Henry also pressed Pruitt on this $50-a-night condo rental.
"Is draining the swamp renting an apartment from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?" Henry asked.
Pruitt called the question unfair.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 4, 2018