Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt turned to conservative and oil industry-linked outlets to defend himself after receiving a barrage of negative press coverage for his ethically questionable condo lease.
In the past week, Pruitt has been facing an ethics scandal after numerous stories came out about a $50-a-night rental agreement Pruitt made with the wife of an energy lobbyist for a condo in Washington, D.C. Pruitt, who has a habit of going to right-wing and conservative outlets for favorable coverage, took to The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal to defend the condo lease and dismiss criticism.
In an interview with The Washington Examiner for its Washington Secrets column, Pruitt wrote off criticism about his below-market condo lease as evidence of his attackers being willing to “resort to anything” to stop his agenda at the EPA:
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday forcefully pushed back against criticism that he won a short-term sweetheart rental deal from a lobbyist friend, claiming it’s just the latest attempt by his and the president’s attackers to “resort to anything” to stop their agenda.
“There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” he said in an interview with Secrets.
Pruitt also claimed that he rented only one room of the condo, that his monthly rent was about $1,500, and that the lobbyist whose wife co-owns the condo had no business before the EPA:
Pruitt dismissed the townhouse controversy, explaining that he rented just one room while he looked for permanent housing. The EPA’s general counsel issued a reporting calling the rent for one room, about $1,500 a month, “reasonable.”
Pruitt said, “I’m dumbfounded that that’s controversial.” He added that the lobbyist friend from Oklahoma doesn’t have business before the EPA.
“When you think of the townhouse, the rent last year. The owner of that is an Oklahoman. I’ve known him for years. He’s the outside counsel for the National Rifle Association, has no clients that are before this agency, nor does his wife have any clients that have appeared before this agency."
Yet recent reporting contradicts each of those claims: ABC News revealed that Pruitt’s daughter occupied a second room in the condo during her White House internship. Bloomberg reported that Pruitt paid “paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months,” which comes out to an average monthly rent of about $1,000. And The New York Times reported that the condo owner's husband, Steven Hart, is head of a lobbying firm that represents pipeline company Enbridge, and the EPA signed off on an Enbridge pipeline project while Pruitt was staying at the condo.
In a separate interview with The Daily Signal, the news site of the oil industry-funded Heritage Foundation, Pruitt claimed that media reports about his rental were “not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is.” He described his arrangement as “an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence,” and he once again dismissed concerns about the fact that an energy lobbyist’s wife co-owned the condo. From the article:
Media reports, Pruitt told The Daily Signal during an interview Tuesday, are incomplete and don’t reflect “the truth.”
“I think the information has been, as things go, I think very intermittent and very sporadic and not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is,” Pruitt said in the interview.
“We had a memo and a statement from career ethics officials here that have actually reviewed the lease, that actually reviewed comps—comparables of similar units,” Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, told The Daily Signal.
“And I think what’s missed in this: I didn’t rent a unit,” Pruitt said. “I didn’t rent an apartment. This was an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence.”
Pruitt also pushed back against reports that he rented space from an energy lobbyist.
“The other thing I would say is that the owner of the residence—people, I’ve heard, say that he’s an energy lobbyist,” Pruitt told The Daily Signal.
Speaking of Hart, Pruitt said: “He’s the chairman of a law firm. I’ve know this gentleman for years. He’s an Oklahoman, and his firm represents these [energy industry] clients, not him. There has been no connection whatsoever in that regard.”