Committee Wants to View Pruitt Records 02/22 06:16
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Republican-led congressional committee is demanding
records related to premium-class flights taken by Environmental Protection
Agency chief Scott Pruitt.
House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy issued a letter to Pruitt this week
seeking an accounting of all flights taken by the EPA administrator over the
last year and whether the ticket was coach, business or first class. Pruitt
defended his use of premium-class airfare in media interviews earlier this
month, saying security concerns were raised after unpleasant interactions with
The South Carolina Republican's letter sent Tuesday specifically cites the
evolving explanations of EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox, who initially told
reporters that Pruitt had a "blanket waiver" to fly first class before then
saying separate waiver had been granted by ethics officials for each flight.
Federal employees are typically supposed to fly coach, and travel rules such
bar blanket waivers.
"We will respond to Chairman Gowdy through the proper channel," Wilcox said
Pruitt, the former GOP attorney general of Oklahoma, has been under
increasing scrutiny for his jet setting since his appointment by President
Donald Trump last year. Records show Pruitt's airfare is often several times
more expensive than that of aides booked on the same flights.
Gowdy's letter says the requested records are to be provided to his
committee by March 6.
"Federal regulations require government travelers to obtain approval or
authorization from their agency to use accommodations other than coach-class
when traveling on official business," Gowdy wrote. "Clearly, federal
regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate
disabilities or special needs."
Pruitt said earlier this month he had some "incidents" on flights that
necessitated his need for first-class seats. EPA has refused requests from The
Associated Press to provide details of those incidents.
"We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues
of the environment," Pruitt said in an interview with a New Hampshire
newspaper. "We've reached the point where there's not much civility in the
marketplace and it's created, you know, it's created some issues and the
(security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of
Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to have a 24-hour security detail,
even inside the agency's secured headquarters in Washington. He has also taken
other security precautions, including the addition of a $25,000 soundproof
"privacy booth" inside his office to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls
and spending $3,000 to have his office swept for hidden listening devices.
Pruitt has denied he played any role in purchasing the premium-class
tickets, saying his chief of staff and EPA security had made those decisions.
Federal regulations allow government travelers to fly business class or
first class when no cheaper options are "reasonably available" or if there are
exceptional security circumstances. However, past federal audits have found
that those rules have been routinely violated by high-ranking government
officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Pruitt's frequent government-funded travel, which records show has often
included weekend layovers in his home state of Oklahoma, is already under
review by EPA's internal watchdog.
The use of luxury air travel by members of Trump's Cabinet has been
attracting attention for months. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price
was forced to resign in September following media reports he spent at least
$400,000 in taxpayer funds on private jets for himself and his staff.
A report recently released by the inspector general at the Department of
Veterans Affairs found that Secretary David Shulkin and his staff made "false
representations" to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense on an
11-day European trip that mixed business and sightseeing.