The Environmental Protection Agency's embattled Administrator Scott Pruitt is claiming ignorance over pay raises for some of his top staffers.
Pruitt, already under scrutiny for renting a room in a condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist and for a $120,000 work trip to Italy last year, told Fox News' Ed Henry in an interview airing Wednesday that he was unaware of large raises — of $28,000 and nearly $57,000, first reported by the Atlantic — for his top aides until this week. The Atlantic reported Tuesday that in March, Pruitt went to the White House with a request for raises for top aides Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, two of Pruitt's staffers when he was Oklahoma attorney general who followed him to Washington. The White House, the Atlantic reported, declined to approve the raises for the political appointees — but Pruitt's office reportedly found a way to make the raises possible anyways.
In the Wednesday interview, Pruitt denied any knowledge of the raises until the day before, and said he canceled them immediately. Asked why he allegedly went around the president's back, Pruitt said he did not.
"I did not," Pruitt said. "My staff did and I found about that yesterday and I changed it. PPO process should have been respected and I issued a statement yesterday walking back those pay raises."
But Pruitt failed to answer basic questions about the aides, such as who was responsible for the raise, as well as whether the aides were his friends from Oklahoma and what the median household income in America is.
Here is the exchange:
Henry: So hold on both of these staffers who got these large pay raises are friends of yours I believe from Oklahoma right?
Pruitt: They are staffers here in the agency.
Henry: They're friends of yours.
Pruitt: Well they serve a very important -
Henry: And you didn't know they got these large pay raises.
Pruitt: I did not know that they got the pay raises until yesterday.
Henry: Okay one of them got a pay raise of let's see 28,000. The other was 56,000 dollars. Do you know what the median income in this country is?
Pruitt: No what is -
Henry: 57,000 a year. So one of your friends from Oklahoma got a pay raise that's the median -
Pruitt: They did not get a pay raise. They did not get a pay raise.
Henry: They did.
Pruitt: They did not. They did not. I stopped that yesterday.
Henry: So you stopped it but are you embarrassed that -
Pruitt: It should not have happened and the officials that were involved in that process should not have done what they did.
Pruitt is already under fire for renting a condo for $50 a night — which he paid only when he was in D.C. — from the wife of a Washington energy lobbyist for about five and a half months last year. As CBS News has reported, the housing arrangement was signed off on by an EPA ethics official. In his interview with Henry, Pruitt defended the condo decision, pointing to the ethics official sign-off and dismissing concerns about the lobbying connection.
The Capitol Hill condo where Pruitt lived sometimes held fundraisers in the main living area. And on one occasion last year, when EPA security personnel feared for Pruitt's safety because he could not be reached inside the home, the security staff broke the door handle and a window, a cost that was reimbursed by the EPA. Pruitt's daughter also lived in the same condo for a while when she was interning at the White House, CBS News' Arden Farhi has reported.
The situation has prompted a number of Democrats, and even at least two Republican members of Congress, to call for his resignation. The White House is reportedly reviewing the living arrangement, but President Trump has called Pruitt to reassure him and encourage him to keep fighting. Pruitt has been instrumental in rolling back EPA regulations that Mr. Trump campaigned against.
In the Fox News interview, Pruitt declined repeated chances to own up to his decisions — but declined to answer Henry's question about whether he has made mistakes head-on. Instead, Henry pointed to his staff and said he's fixing things. Henry pointed out that Mr. Trump pledged to drain the swamp, and asked Pruitt if staying in the home of a condo connected to a lobbyist was draining the swamp.
"I don't think that that's even remotely fair to ask that question," Pruitt said.
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