EPA Chief’s Senior Legal Counsel Is Latest Top Aide to Leave
President Donald Trump, who has encouraged EPA chief Pruitt's rollback of environmental regulations, continues to publicly stand by the director
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt announced the resignation of his senior legal counsel Thursday, the second departure of a top aide in as many days and one of a half-dozen since April amid unending barrages of ethics complaints and federal inquiries.
The counsel, Sarah Greenwalt, is due to appear for questioning this month by a panel of House oversight committee staffers investigating allegations of ethics violations by Pruitt.
On Wednesday, the EPA announced the resignation of Pruitt scheduler Millan Hupp. Hupp's departure came after lawmakers released her testimony to the congressional panel, in which she said Pruitt had directed her to house-hunt and carry out other personal errands for him, including asking the Trump International Hotel about buying a used mattress cheap.
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In a statement announcing Greenwalt's resignation, Pruitt called her a "tremendous leader" within the agency. Greenwalt did not return an email from The Associated Press to her work account seeking comment. A separate statement released by the EPA had Greenwalt praising Pruitt's "visionary leadership and tenacity."
In addition to the House committee, the EPA's inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and the White House are investigating numerous allegations concerning Pruitt's spending on first-class travel and security, his dealings with subordinates and with lobbyists, and other matters.
Greenwalt, who also served as counsel to Pruitt in his previous position as Oklahoma's attorney general, was in the news most recently when Pruitt rescinded a hefty raise for her after public criticism of his use of a little-known clause in the Safe Drinking Water Act to come up with the money.
Pruitt, in appearances before congressional hearings this spring, has denied responsibility for any ethical lapses, saying subordinates made those decisions.
Greenwalt is returning to Oklahoma to work as counsel with the state's workers' compensation commission.
Ryan Jackson, Pruitt's chief of staff, now is the only one of five staffers known to have been requested to appear before the House Oversight panel to remain on Pruitt's staff.
New coverage this week disclosing Pruitt's directive to Hupp to seek a used mattress for him, and another directive to a different staffer to reach out to the Chick-fil-A sandwich chain about a franchise for his family, led several GOP lawmakers to join Democratic colleagues in lambasting Pruitt.
"He is acting like a moron, and he needs to stop it," Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, told CNN Thursday.
"The hits just keep on coming, and I think he's hurting the president and therefore he's hurting the country," Kennedy added.
Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked EPA inspector general Arthur Elkins on Thursday to investigate whether Pruitt is illegally using his EPA post to drum up business deals for his family.
Whitehouse and Carper also asked Elkins to examine whether the EPA has been holding back entries from Pruitt's work calendar and other documents requested by Congress or by organizations invoking the Freedom of Information Act. The senators cited repeated requests for a set of recommendations that Ohio coal tycoon Robert Murray had given Pruitt in 2017 on rolling back what Murray saw as "anti-coal" policies.
EPA spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.
President Donald Trump, who has encouraged Pruitt's rollback of environmental regulations at the EPA, continued to publicly stand by Pruitt. He's "doing really, really well," Trump said Wednesday, at a gathering with Pruitt and other agency and Cabinet leaders.