There's reason to believe that EPA chief Scott Pruitt might be the next White House staffer to lawyer up. Thanks to reporting from Bloomberg, we now know that Pruitt was paying far below market value for a D.C. apartment co-owned by the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist, a situation that has government ethics experts screaming corruption.
Cabinet members shouldn't have connections to lobbyists. They definitely shouldn't accept gifts from lobbyists. It was already questionable when ABC News reported that Pruitt was living in an apartment co-owned by a lobbyist couple, but perhaps if he had been paying market value for it, then he might have remained in a tenable situation.
At first, the lobbyist in question, J. Steven Hart, didn't tell ABC how much Pruitt was paying for the luxury apartment on Capitol Hill, and only said that he believed that Pruitt was paying market value. However, the news then broke that Pruitt was only paying $50 a night, and only paying for the nights on which he actually slept at the apartment — despite the fact that he had his belongings in the apartment the whole time.
Bloomberg did the math so that you don't have to. It turns out that Pruitt paid a total of $6,100 for about six months, and he paid that at varying intervals and in varying amounts. If you've ever paid rent, then you probably didn't pay it in that manner — and if you've ever visited or lived in D.C., then you know that an apartment rental right near Capitol Hill is going to run you significantly more than $50 a night, and that for only the nights that you're there.
This is already a grizzly situation for Pruitt and for the White House. However, it doesn't stop there. Pruitt has a habit of taking first-class flights on the taxpayer's dime, amounting to about $118,000 worth in his first year in office alone. This included a trip to Morocco, during which Pruitt spoke about "the potential benefit of liquified natural gas (LNG) imports on Morocco’s economy." If this sounds somewhat outside of the scope of what you'd imagine that the head of the nation's agency dedicated to environmental protection generally talks about, then you're not alone in thinking that.
However, there's a pretty direct line connecting the various elements of this story. When Pruitt went to Morocco to talk about liquified natural gas imports, there was only one company in the United States that was prepared to export that product, a company called Cheniere Energy Inc. And Pruitt, as mentioned above, was living in an apartment co-owned by the wife of a major energy lobbyist. That lobbyist's firm, as it turns out, focuses on liquid natural gas exports.
To sum it all up, the head of the EPA was living in an apartment owned by the wife of a lobbyist and paying hardly any money for it. While that was going on, he flew to Morocco for what ABC reported was $40,000 in taxpayer funds to promote that lobbyist's cause, even though it had nothing to do with his actual job.
This is the same man who took the job heading up the EPA after suing it multiple times in the previous six years as Oklahoma attorney general. Since he stepped into his current position, he's curbed the EPA's ability to do climate science and rolled back regulation after regulation.