Democrats ask EPA watchdog to investigate Pruitt aide's real estate search

PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 16, 2018.PlayAndrew Harnik/AP, FILE
WATCH EPA chief faces sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers

Democratic senators are asking the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog to launch a new investigation into whether Scott Pruitt violated any rules when one of his aides helped him find an apartment.

This request, sent by Sens. Tom Udall, D- N.M., Tom Carper, D- Del., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D- R.I. asks the inspector general to look into whether Pruitt violated federal regulations when one of his top aides helped him find a new place to live without being paid for those efforts.

In a letter to the inspector general, the senators wrote that it could violate rules about accepting gifts if one of his aides Millan Hupp helped with the search for free or could violate other rules if the search was conducted using government resources.

Hupp was one of two EPA staffers that the EPA inspector general found were granted substantial raises by Pruitt's chief of staff.

Udall is the ranking Democrat on a Senate subcommittee with oversight of EPA's budget and questioned Pruitt about the arrangement in a hearing earlier this month.

Federal law says that employees should not be asked to do anything other than their job during work hours and that subordinates cannot be asked to provide any financial benefits or favors, which could qualify as a gift if the person isn't compensated.

Pruitt confirmed in that hearing that Hupp helped him find an apartment but said it was only during her personal time and that she was a friend of the family.

"It's my understanding that all activity there was on personal time. And the individual that you're referring to is a longtime friend of my wife and myself," Pruitt said in the hearing.

Pruitt also said they did not pay her for the time she spent on the real estate search, which the senators said could violate laws that subordinates cannot be required to do personal favors without pay.

The Democrats released internal EPA emails that show Hupp was emailing with realtors from her agency email address and during working hours on at least one occasion last July.

An EPA spokesman said the department is working diligently and in full cooperation with the ongoing investigations.

Hupp did not respond to a request for comment.

The EPA's inspector general already has multiple open investigations into Pruitt's actions since he took over at the agency, including his living arrangement in a Capitol Hill townhouse connected to lobbyists, as well as his security detail and travel.