Re­port: Pruitt broke law with $43,000 booth

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt broke the law by build­ing a sound­proof $43,000 phone booth in his of­fice and not telling law­mak­ers about it, a gov­ern­ment watch­dog said Mon­day in a re­port that calls on the agency to im­me­di­ately ac­knowl­edge that it vi­o­lated fed­eral statutes.

In its re­port, the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice said that the con­struc­tion of the phone booth — which Mr. Pruitt has said he needs for pri­vacy rea­sons when dis­cussing po­ten­tially sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion — fell into a group of cat­e­gories that re­quire con­gres­sional no­ti­fi­ca­tions for any ex­pense over $5,000. Those cat­e­gories in­clude when tax­payer funds are used to “fur­nish” an of­fice.

“EPA’s state­ments place the pri­vacy booth squarely within the mean­ing of ‘fur­nish,’ as the booth equipped the of­fice with some­thing that EPA as­serts it needed,” the GAO said.

At the same time, Mr. Pruitt also is fac­ing a host of in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­lated to his liv­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions, ex­pen­sive se­cu­rity de­tail, and whether he knew of raises given to two top aides with­out the White House’s per­mis­sion. Mon­day’s re­port is the first in­ves­ti­ga­tion to re­turn a find­ing, and the de­ter­mi­na­tion that the EPA ac­tu­ally broke the law spurred even Repub­li­cans — who un­til Mon­day had mostly been staunch de­fend­ers of Mr. Pruitt — to de­mand the agency im­me­di­ately ex­plain it­self.

“The Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice has found that EPA failed to no­tify Congress be­fore in­stalling this pri­vacy booth,” said Sen. John Bar­rasso, Wy­oming Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Sen­ate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee. “It is crit­i­cal that EPA and all fed­eral agen­cies com­ply with no­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments to Congress be­fore spend­ing tax­payer dol­lars. EPA must give a full pub­lic ac­count­ing of this ex­pen­di­ture and ex­plain why the agency thinks it was com­ply­ing with the law.”

The EPA did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. Democrats, who have spent the past month call­ing on Mr. Pruitt to re­sign, sug­gested that Mon­day’s re­port is just the tip of the ice­berg, and that fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions will un­cover more ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing.

“Now that we know that Scott Pruitt’s se­crecy ex­tended to the point of break­ing the law, the next ques­tion Congress needs an­swered is how many other laws Pruitt has bro­ken,” said Rep. Don Beyer, Vir­ginia Demo­crat. “We are only just be­gin­ning to learn about what Scott Pruitt has re­ally been up to dur­ing his cor­rupt reign at the EPA. Congress must ini­ti­ate fur­ther over­sight to get an­swers for the pub­lic, and hold those re­spon­si­ble for wrong­do­ing ac­count­able.”

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