WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House oversight committee is demanding interviews with five close aides to embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, including his security chief.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy issued a letter to Pruitt on Friday directing EPA to make the witnesses available for transcribed interviews with investigators. The South Carolina Republican also demanded a long list of documents from EPA about Pruitt’s travel spending and unprecedented security precautions.
Among those on the interview list is Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who heads Pruitt’s 20-member personal protective detail. The Associated Press first reported last week that EPA has spent about $3 million on Pruitt’s security, much of it approved by Perrotta. He also signed off on the administrator flying in first-class seats during official trips, a perk Pruitt says was justified by security concerns after unpleasant interactions with other passengers.
Also set to be interviewed by the committee is Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign aide who was Pruitt’s deputy chief of staff. Chmielewski alleges he was placed on involuntary, unpaid leave in retaliation for pushing back against Pruitt’s outsized spending demands. In prior interviews with Senate and House Democrats, Chmielewski said Pruitt routinely insisted on luxury travel and accommodations.
Gowdy gave an April 27 deadline for response from EPA.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the agency has responded to Gowdy’s past inquiries and “we will continue to work with him.”
In a letter earlier this week, Gowdy said EPA has thus far failed to hand over several documents related to Pruitt’s travel spending that the committee requested in February.
Pruitt’s continued leadership of the environmental agency has been under fire since the revelation two weeks ago that he lived in a bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo tied to a fossil fuels lobbyist.
Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, is also on the list to be interviewed, as are two young aides that the administrator brought with him from Oklahoma, where he previously served as attorney general.
After the White House refused to sign off on massive raises for senior legal counsel Sarah Greenwalt and scheduling director Millian Hupp, Chmielewski said Pruitt used a little known legal authority solely granted to the EPA administrator to push them through himself.
Greenwalt, 30, got a raise of nearly $57,000, bringing her salary to $164,200 a year. Hupp, 26, saw her salary jump to $114,590, a raise of more than $28,000.
In a combative Fox News interview on April 4, Pruitt insisted he didn’t approve the big raises and didn’t know who did.
Chmielewski has contradicted Pruitt’s account, saying the administrator personally approved of the salary hikes.
Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck