Trump's under-fire EPA chief blows budget on security detail, travel

Trump's under-fire EPA chief blows budget on security detail, travel
From Global News - April 7, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitts concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.

Altogether, the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member full-time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessors part-time security contingent.

READ MORE: Donald Trump sticks by Scott Pruitt as fellow Republicans call for resignation

New details in Pruitts expansive spending for security and travel emerged from agency sources and documents reviewed by The Associated Press. They come as the embattled EPA leader fends off allegations of profligate spending and ethical missteps that have imperiled his job.

WATCH: White House reviewing EPAs Scott Pruitt

Shortly after arriving in Washington, Pruitt demoted the career staff member heading his security detail and replaced him with EPA Senior Special Agent Pasquale Nino Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who operates a private security company.

An EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitts security spending says Perrotta oversaw a rapid expansion of the EPA chiefs security detail to accommodate guarding him day and night, even on family vacations and when Pruitt was home in Oklahoma. The EPA official spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Perrotta also signed off on new procedures that let Pruitt fly first-class on commercial airliners, with the security chief typically sitting next to him with other security staff farther back in the plane. Pruitts premium status gave him and his security chief access to VIP airport lounges.

The EPA official said there are legitimate concerns about Pruitts safety, given public opposition to his rollbacks of anti-pollution measures.

READ MORE: EPA boss Scott Pruitt may start flying coach amid scrutiny for flying 1st class over security concerns

But Pruitts ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Pruitt travelled to California for a family vacation.

The EPA official said total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said late Friday that Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and his family.

Americans should all agree that members of the Presidents cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats, Wilcox said.

A nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Pruitt. EPAs press office did not respond Friday to provide details of any specific threats or arrests.

Pruitt has said his use of first-class airfare was initiated following unpleasant interactions with other travellers. In one incident, someone yelled a profanity as he walked through the airport.

The EPA administrator has come under intense scrutiny for ethics issues and outsized spending. Among the concerns: massive raises for two of closest aides and his rental of a Capitol Hill condo tied to a lobbyist who represents fossil fuel clients.

At least three congressional Republicans and a chorus of Democrats have called for Pruitts ouster. But President Donald Trump is so far standing by him.

WATCH: Trump not thrilled about Pruitts use of private plane

A review of Pruitts ethical conduct by White House officials is underway, adding to probes by congressional oversight committees and EPAs inspector general.


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