WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt had a top aide seek a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel and perform other personal chores for him, including house-hunting and booking personal travel to a football game, according to testimony released Monday.
Millan Hupp’s transcribed interview last month before a panel of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staffers marks the first public accounting from one of Pruitt’s closest aides on personal errands that she said the EPA chief had her do. The transcript was released Monday by committee Democrats.
Federal ethics rule prohibit supervisors from directing their subordinates to carry out personal errands.
Committee investigators asked Hupp about an Sept. 14 email, with the subject line “Inquiry on behalf of Administrator Scott Pruitt, to the managing director at the Trump hotel. She said she didn’t recall sending it, but under questioning discussed the context.
“The administrator had spoken with someone at the Trump Hotel, who had indicated there could be a mattress he could purchase, an old mattress he could purchase,” said Hupp, the EPA administrator’s director of scheduling.
“It was around the same time that he was moving,” she added.
Patricia Tang, the marketing director for the Trump International, denied that Pruitt was ever offered a used mattress.
“No, that did not happen,” Tang told The Associated Press. “We do not, and have not, ever sold used mattresses.”
Tang said the hotel’s managing director, Mickael Damelincourt, responded to Hupp by email, telling her that no deals for used mattresses were available. Tang declined to provide a copy of that email.
The Trump Organization does offer customers the opportunity to purchase new versions of the Stearns & Foster model used in its hotels under its Trump Home brand.
Tang’s account did not square with Hupp’s closed-door congressional testimony.
“I do not recall ever connecting with someone on this topic, and I do not recall whatever came of the inquiry into the mattress,” Hupp testified.
President Donald Trump has stood behind his embattled EPA chief, but this was the first time an ethical question surrounding Pruitt has touched on part of the president’s business empire.
Asked Monday about the mattress matter, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said they are looking into it. “I couldn’t comment on the specifics of the furniture used in his apartment,” she said.
Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Gerald Connolly of Virginia called the errands a violation of federal law on gifts from subordinates and asked the majority to subpoena agency records they said were being withheld. They are the top Democrats on the House oversight committee and a subcommittee on government operations, respectively.
“If Ms. Hupp’s statements to the committee are accurate, Administrator Pruitt crossed a very clear line and must be held accountable,” they wrote to committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican.
Gowdy’s spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez criticized the Democrats for “selectively releasing” portions of confidential testimony, saying it could undermine the investigation by discouraging potential witnesses from coming forward.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the agency is “in full cooperation in providing the committee with the necessary documents, travel vouchers, receipts and witnesses to his inquiries.” He did not answer questions about Pruitt’s search for a used mattress, including whether he actually got one.
Hupp, 26, worked on Pruitt’s political team in Oklahoma before following him to Washington. Since arriving at EPA last year, Hupp’s government salary jumped from $48,000 to $114,590, after she was awarded two salary hikes. Pruitt has denied having direct knowledge of the raises, which he said he would roll back following fierce criticism.
EPA emails obtained by The Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act late last month show Hupp and another EPA staffer also contacted a Washington-area real estate agent during the work day.
“Just checking in to make sure everything is taken care of with Mr. Pruitt,” realtor John Walker wrote Hupp in one final email, in August 2017. Walker told The Associated Press he never actually showed any prospective homes to Pruitt or his staff.
Hupp had denied using EPA email for Pruitt’s house-hunting when she talked to House staffers. During congressional hearings last month, Pruitt told lawmakers he was “not aware of any government time being used by Millan Hupp” for the house-hunt.
Hupp told the investigators that while she was on Christmas vacation, Pruitt asked her to book a flight for him to see his home-state Sooners play in the Rose Bowl. She said he had given her his personal credit card and she used that to make the reservation.
EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and the House Oversight committee are conducting a dozen separate investigations into alleged misspending and ethical missteps involving Pruitt and his top aides.
Federal law makes it a crime to “knowingly and willfully” give materially false statements to Congress.
Pruitt has been under intense scrutiny since March, when media reports first revealed the EPA chief had rented a luxury Capitol Hill condo tied to a prominent oil and gas lobbyist for just $50 a night.
Other recently disclosed examples of Pruitt seeking special treatment include his repeated use of first-class air travel, luxury hotel suits and directing his security staff to use lights and sirens to speed through Washington traffic to dinner reservations.
Pruitt asked coal mining baron Joseph W. Craft III for courtside seats to a University of Kentucky basketball game, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Though the seats were in a section reserved for donors who had given at least a million dollars to the university, Wilcox said Pruitt paid just the face value of $130 for each ticket. Wilcox told the Times that Pruitt paid the billionaire in cash and that there was no receipt.
Associated Press writer Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report.
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