Udall, Schatz, Beyer, Lieu to EPA’s Pruitt: Provide Documentation and Explain Favorable Rental Deal
‘The American public must be able to trust that you are carrying out your duties in a manner that avoids any financial conflicts of interest, inappropriate favoritism or partisan political influence,’ lawmakers write to Pruitt
Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Representatives Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt asking him to personally answer several questions that have been raised about how he secured a special arrangement to rent a room in a Capitol Hill townhouse in 2017. According to ABC and other news reports, the apartment is owned by the wife of Williams & Jensen lobbyist J. Steven Hart, who works on issues the EPA regulates, including energy and transportation. It was made available to Pruitt for $50 a night whenever he needed it. Pruitt’s daughter also used the room during her internship at the White House last year.
The unusually favorable terms of the arrangement offered by the wife of a lobbyist with a direct financial interest in decisions that Pruitt and the EPA make have raised many questions about conflicts of interest, inappropriate favoritism, and partisan or political influence, the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt. As a result, they want Pruitt himself to answer 15 detailed questions about how he arranged the rental, including how he learned about it, what his prior relationship was with Hart and his wife Vicki, and whether he ever discussed EPA business with the Harts or other affiliates with Hart’s firm. The lawmakers also want Pruitt to provide the rental agreement and any communication between him, the Harts, and Williams & Jensen.
“The American public must be able to trust that you are carrying out your duties in a manner that avoids any financial conflicts of interest, inappropriate favoritism or partisan political influence,” the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt, reminding him that he is bound by the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (5 C.F.R. 2635). “We believe it is imperative that you answer questions fully and transparently regarding the circumstances of your rental agreement and its approval.”
A copy of the letter is available HERE and below, along with the questions the lawmakers are asking Pruitt to answer:
The Honorable Scott Pruitt
U.S Environmental Protection Agency
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Mail Code: 1101A
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Mr. Administrator:
As you are aware, all EPA employees, including the Administrator, must abide by the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (5 C.F.R. 2635), as well as other Federal conflict of interest statutes. The American public must be able to trust that you are carrying out your duties in a manner that avoids any financial conflicts of interest, inappropriate favoritism or partisan political influence.
Given these obligations, we are very concerned by recent reports that you and at least one other member of your family were afforded a room in a prime Capitol Hill location for what appears to be unusually favorable terms by a landlord with personal connections to you and to an industry regulated by the agency that you lead. We are also troubled by the circumstances surrounding the agency’s ethics review process, which led EPA to issue a retroactive approval of the rental agreement more than a year after the fact—and only after media reports disclosed the highly unusual nature of the arrangement.
We believe it is imperative that you answer questions fully and transparently regarding the circumstances of your rental agreement and its approval. Therefore, we request that you provide a response to the attached list of questions and requests for documentation by no later than April 17, 2018.
Request for Information:
How did you learn about the availability of the property you rented at 223 C Street, Northeast (“rental property”)? Does this property advertise rooms for rent to the general public?
What were the specific dates of the rental agreement, and what is the total amount you paid the landlord for the use of the rental property during that time?
Were any employees of the Office of the Administrator or other EPA employees involved in locating the property, or otherwise negotiating, facilitating, or executing any portion of your rental agreement? Did any EPA employees communicate with the landlord or other owners or representatives of owners of the property on your behalf?
What is your relationship with the landlord or other owners of the rental property? Please describe any interactions you had with Ms. Vicki Hart, Mr. Steven Hart, or any other owner or representative of an owner of the property prior to the date on which you entered into the rental agreement.
Was the room rented to you available for your exclusive use for the duration of your lease agreement, despite reports that you only paid for nights when you actually used the property? Was the room rented to other people when you were not using the rental property?
It has been reported that your daughter also lived at the rental property for some duration of your rental agreement. How did you secure the arrangement for your daughter to stay at the rental property? Did the arrangement to use the rental property extend to any other family members? If so, which members of your family? Did you have other family or guests stay at the rental property who were not a part of your rental agreement?
Did you set a schedule ahead of time for your usage of the rental property? Did you pay any utilities, cleaning, or other fees? Did you receive mail or other packages delivered to the property?
Did you attend any fundraisers or other political functions that occurred at the rental property during your stay? If so, on how many occasions and by whose invitation?
Did you discuss any EPA official business with the landlord, their affiliates, or other visitors at the rental property? If so, what topics were discussed, and with whom?
Did you agree to undertake any official actions that benefited the landlord, their affiliates, or other visitors you met at the rental property? If so, what actions were taken, and on whose behalf?
Did you ever discuss your trip to Morocco to promote liquefied natural gas with the landlord, their affiliates, or visitors you met at the rental property? If so, what topics were discussed, and with whom?
Who requested review of the rental agreement by EPA’s designated agency ethics officer or related ethics staff, and on what date was that request made? Please describe any review—formal or informal—of the rental agreement that occurred by EPA staff between January 20, 2017, and the release of the agency’s March 30, 2018, memorandum titled “Review of Lease Agreement Under the Federal Ethics Regulations Regarding Gifts”.
The agency’s March 30, 2018, memorandum appears to address only the narrow question of whether the rental agreement in question constitutes a gift under Federal ethics regulations. Did agency ethics officials determine whether the agreement was fully in compliance with the entire Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch and other applicable Federal ethics statutes or standards of conduct?
How did the agency determine that the fair market value described by the rental agreement was “reasonable” as cited by the March 30, 2018 memorandum? Please provide the analysis used to reach that conclusion, including comparable rental agreement costs used in making that determination.
Were any employees of the Office of the Administrator or other EPA employees involved in making subsequent housing arrangements for any other property other than the rental property in question for you or your family?
Please provide copies of any of the following documents that may have been developed since December 7, 2016, when President Trump announced his intention to nominate you as EPA Administrator:
A copy of the rental agreement for the rental property;
Any communications between yourself and Ms. Vicki Hart, any other owner of the residence, or anyone representing the owners;
Any communications between yourself and Mr. Steven Hart, any person employed by Williams & Jensen, and any calendar entries or notes relating to any meetings or conversations between yourself and Mr. Hart or any other person employed by Williams & Jensen;
Any communications between anyone working in the Administrator’s office and Mr. Hart, any other person employed by Williams & Jensen, and any calendar entries or notes relating to any meetings or conversations between anyone working in the Administrator's office and Mr. Hart or any other person employed by Williams & Jensen; and
Any communications between yourself or anyone working in the Administrator's office and any other official or employee of EPA regarding Mr. Hart, any other person employed by Williams & Jensen, or any client of Williams & Jensen.