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House oversight panel asks EPA for travel, condo documents

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican head of the U.S. House of Representative's oversight committee told Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt on Wednesday his agency has not provided requested documents about expensive air travel, including documents related to any threats that had been made on Pruitt.

Representative Trey Gowdy, the oversight committee chairman, said in a letter to Pruitt that the EPA had not produced documents showing whether there was an individual waiver or authorization for purchasing first- or business-class air tickets. A copy of the letter was seen by Reuters.

Gowdy also said in the letter he had not received documents that referred to "specific, ongoing threats associated with the Administrator's air travel," which the agency had said were the basis for obtaining Pruitt's first-class air tickets in a letter to Gowdy from EPA Associate Administrator Troy Lyons, dated March 20. Gowdy said in Wednesday's letter that the EPA had shared some documents, some of which were shared in private, but did not say what they concerned.

Pruitt has been under fire by Democrats and some Republicans for frequent first-class air travel, including a trip to Italy that cost $43,000, not including security detail. [nL1N1R217O]

President Donald Trump has supported Pruitt, but said he would take a look into the allegations. [nL2N1RI17B]

Gowdy, who had led a high-profile investigation into a 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's tenure, requested documents on Pruitt's travel on Feb. 20. Before that request, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said that Pruitt had a “blanket waiver” enabling him to fly first class, which Wilcox later amended. [nL2N1QB2BN]

Gowdy also asked Pruitt in the letter to provide documents on a lease for a condo that he rented from Vicki Hart, the wife of a lobbyist who works for companies regulated by the EPA, which has been criticized for the low rate of $50 per day charged to Pruitt when he stayed there.

The EPA ethics office said this month its recent review of the condo rental cleared Pruitt of accepting a gift from a lobbyist, but it did not address a rule requiring officials to avoid behavior that could result in their impartiality being questioned. [nL2N1RI17B]

Gowdy asked the EPA to provide all the documents, including communications relating to the lease with Hart and her husband, Steven Hart, by April 25, to help his committee determine whether federal ethics regulations were followed.

"We will respond to Chairman Gowdy through the proper channel," Wilcox said.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler)