House Democrats, prompted by a series of new reports about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s alleged use of agency staff for personal business, are asking the Justice Department and FBI to conduct a criminal probe of his actions in office.
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The move came as President Donald Trump Friday praised Pruitt but added he wasn't saying he's "blameless."
“Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA,” President Trump said as he left the White House for the G7 summit in Canada. “Outside he’s being attacked viciously by the press. I’m not saying he’s blameless, but we’ll see what happens.”
The Democrats say Pruitt might have committed crimes.
"We write to you with grave concerns that ... Pruitt has used his public office and official, taxpayer-funded resources for personal gain of himself and his family, in violation of federal law," Democrats, led by Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan released Friday.
"At the very least, we know that federal ethics laws bar public officials from using their position or staff for private gain. Administrator Pruitt has certainly done just that. Further, his actions related to his wife's employment and the quid-pro-quo condo situation with industry lobbyists may have crossed a line into criminal conduct punishable by fines or even time in prison," they wrote.
Pruitt and EPA spokespeople have generally denied any wrongdoing. With regard to the Democratic letter, an EPA spokesperson referred requests for comment to Pruitt's outside counsel. Paul Rauser, who has reportedly been retained by Pruitt amid the mounting investigations, did not return a phone call and email seeking comment.
Federal law says that government officials can't use their public office for personal gain or to benefit family members. Pruitt, in a television interview Wednesday, didn't say whether he thought he had acted inappropriately.
"I think with great change comes, I think you know, opposition. There's significant changes happening not only at the EPA but across the administration and it's needed," Pruitt told a reporter from Nextstar TV in Washington. "Look, My wife is an entrepreneur herself, I love, she loves, we love Chick-fil-A as a franchise of faith and it's one of the best in the country and that's something we were very excited about and we need more of them in Tulsa and we need more of them across the country. So anyway, it's an exciting time."
Pruitt's conduct and spending is the subject of about a dozen congressional and federal investigations. In addition to the incidents cited in the Democrats' letter, Pruitt also reportedly had members of his around-the-clock security detail run errands for him, including picking up his dry cleaning and looking for moisturizing lotion offered in Ritz-Carlton hotels, according to the Washington Post.