Already accused of billing taxpayers for private jets and first-class plane tickets, EPA chief Scott Pruitt flew coach when he had pay for his own tickets instead of using government funds, a new report says.
The embattled head of the Environmental Protection Agency claimed he needed to fly first class because of security threats and "unpleasant interactions" with other passengers. But the Associated Press found that Pruitt flew coach on two personal trips home to Oklahoma.
The information comes from copies of Pruitt's official schedule, which shows he made two flights to Tulsa in August and October on Southwest Airlines, which doesn't offer a first-class section. Pruitt flew on a "companion pass" using frequent flyer miles accumulated by Ken Wagner, a former law partner Pruitt hired as a senior EPA adviser. Pruitt then reimbursed Wagner. Pruitt's full-time security detail accompanied him at taxpayer expense.
Asked to comment, an EPA spokesman said "the same security procedures are followed whether Administrator Pruitt is on official or personal travel." But he didn't tell the AP why Pruitt had to fly coach on those personal trips.
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An EPA ethics lawyer says the agency is consulting with the Office of Government Ethics to see "whether any additional steps needed to be taken to ensure full compliance with the ethics requirements," the AP says.
Walter Shaub, the former Office of Government Ethics director, said the "companion pass" Pruitt used likely violated federal rules barring officials from accepting gifts from their subordinates over $10. "EPA’s discussion of the discounted price that the donor paid is disingenuous," said Shaub. “In this case, EPA should look to see what Pruitt would have had to pay if he had purchased the ticket on the day that he accepted the gift of free airfare from his subordinate.”
Last month, it came to light that Pruitt had rented a Washington, D.C. apartment owned by a fossil fuel lobbyist at the deeply discounted price of $50 a night. He had previously been criticized for spending $43,000 on a secure phone booth for the EPA office.