Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt bought tickets for himself and his family to watch the Oklahoma Sooners play in the Rose Bowl with help from a marketing executive whose firm represents energy companies, including one client with business before the EPA, a former Pruitt aide has told congressional investigators.
Former Pruitt aide Millan Hupp told the House Oversight Committee in a transcribed interview last month that Pruitt obtained tickets to the bowl game with help from Renzi Stone, a member of the University Oklahoma Board of Regents and the chairman and CEO of Saxum, a communications company that also has an energy practice, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, revealed in a new letter to Stone.
According to her testimony excerpted in the Cummings letter, Pruitt "obtained tickets from an acquaintance that works in some capacity for the university," adding that she did not know how much Pruitt paid for the tickets to one of college football's most celebrated annual championship games, held on New Year's Day.
The New York Times reported that Pruitt purchased four tickets near the 50-yard line for face value of $175 per ticket, five days before the sold-out game. The tickets were purchased from a special allotment for the University of Oklahoma - while tickets sold on secondary ticket websites were selling for much more than the price paid by Pruitt, according to the report.
"Federal ethics rules prohibit government employees from accepting gifts, such as tickets, to sporting events, unless they pay 'market value,' Cummings wrote in the letter to Stone requesting information about the exchange. He also noted that ethics rules prevent government employees from accepting gifts from individuals whose work is regulated by, working with, or seeking action from the relevant agency.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox accused Cummings of "misconstruing the facts" about the tickets.
“It seems Representative Cummings is misconstruing the facts. Renzi Stone, a friend of Administrator Pruitt and regent to the University of Oklahoma, simply connected Pruitt to the athletic department. Pruitt purchased the tickets at face value from the OU athletic department. To report otherwise is false," Wilcox said in a statement.
Saxum, according to its website, is a "full-service marketing communications agency" whose clients include the American Petroleum Institute, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and Oklahoma-based energy company Williams.
One of Saxum's clients, Plains All American Pipeline, has a petition before the EPA to discharge hydro-static test water from a pipeline in Texas, according to Cummings.
The company - whose website declares "We know energy" - offers "marketing communications, public relations and public affairs needs of energy companies throughout the entire supply chain, as well as companies that service the industry," according to Saxum's website.
A spokesman for Plains All American Pipeline said it is no longer a client of Saxum.
"Plains All American Pipeline is a former client of Saxum," the spokesman said in a statement Saturday. "Our prior association ended in November 2017 and was limited to Oklahoma-based public relations support for a pipeline construction project."
When asked to comment on the ticket exchange, a representative of Stone's referred ABC News to tweets he posted Friday defending the ticket sale.
Each year mid-Dec people call for OU bowl tickets. Scott Pruitt, my friend since 2001, asked through an aide if he could buy Rose Bowl tix. I made connection to OU ticket office. He bought them. That’s it. I’ll respond to Rep. Cummings...we don’t do any work for clients at EPA.— C. Renzi Stone (@renzistone33) June 15, 2018
We did some videos for them. Do your homework. https://t.co/Rmr2jaSPpr— C. Renzi Stone (@renzistone33) June 15, 2018
A client we have never discussed @epa with in any way. Not everyone who works with DC or energy sector clients lobby federal agencies, FYI. In our case with API and every other client Saxum works with, lobbying EPA isn’t the type of work we do. https://t.co/vHRRAzIiEi— C. Renzi Stone (@renzistone33) June 15, 2018
Pruitt's spending and actions as EPA administrator are the subjects of roughly a dozen congressional and federal investigations. Documents recently released and reviewed by ABC News revealed that Pruitt's aides helped him look for an apartment and mattress in Washington, and also pursued financial opportunities for his wife.
An email from one of Pruitt's former schedulers showed that she reached out to Chick-fil-A in an effort to secure a franchise of the fast food chain for Pruitt's wife.
House Democrats have asked the FBI to open a criminal investigation into Pruitt's behavior in office.
While some Republicans on Capitol Hill have started to question Pruitt's ethics woes, President Trump still appears to be supporting his EPA administrator.
"I'm not happy about certain things but he's done a fantastic job running the EPA," Trump told reporters at the White House Friday.