Political News

Aide Sought a New Apartment for Scott Pruitt, and an ‘Old Mattress’ From Trump Hotel

Posted June 4, 2018 9:03 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2018 9:06 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, used one of his top aides last year essentially as a personal assistant, having her help him search for an apartment as well as to try to procure a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel, congressional transcripts show.

The aide, Millan Hupp, who serves as Pruitt’s scheduling director, also helped Pruitt obtain tickets to last year’s Rose Bowl football game. The details came from a partial transcript of an interview Hupp gave last month to congressional investigators, who are looking into Pruitt’s first-class travel, spending on security and other management decisions at the EPA.

The partial transcript was released Monday when Democrats on the House Oversight Committee wrote to Rep. Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman, asking him to subpoena documents from the EPA regarding Hupp’s real estate work.

At the time Hupp was apartment-hunting for Pruitt, the administrator was living in, but being urged to leave, a Capitol Hill condo he was renting from the wife of a lobbyist who had business before the EPA. Pruitt paid $50 a night when he was not traveling to live in the unit.

In the letter, the ranking Democrats on the oversight panel, Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia, accused Pruitt of “multiple abuses of authority” by using agency staff for personal assignments.

Federal ethics standards prohibit such personal assistance by a subordinate, even if the employee is working outside of office hours, as Hupp said to investigators that she did. One provision bans the use of government time to handle personal matters. A second provision prohibits bosses from asking employees to handle personal matters for them outside of the office.

“Directing or coercing a subordinate to perform such activities during nonduty hours constitutes an improper use of public office for private gain,” according to the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the executive branch.

Asked Monday about Hupp’s mattress-shopping on behalf of Pruitt, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the administration is “certainly looking into the matter.” She added, “I couldn’t comment on the specifics of the furniture used in his apartment.”

Pruitt, during a Senate hearing in May, acknowledged that Hupp did unpaid work for him by searching for new housing on her personal time. Hupp told investigators that she performed the errands for Pruitt on lunch hours, evenings and vacations.

She also said she did not use her official EPA email to conduct Pruitt’s personal business. However, documents released to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act suggest otherwise.

In one exchange, Elizabeth Tate Bennett, an EPA senior deputy associate administrator, introduced Hupp to a Capitol Hill real estate agent, John Walker, describing him as someone who “places members of Congress in homes on the hill regularly.”

Hupp, she told the real estate agent, would like to “get coffee with you as well regarding the other matter we discussed previously.”

Reached by phone Monday, Walker acknowledged the emails and said he ultimately did not work with Hupp or Pruitt.

As for the mattress, it remains unclear why Pruitt wanted it or whether he ultimately purchased one. On Sept. 14, Hupp sent an email to the general manager of the Trump International Hotel in Washington with the subject line “Inquiry on behalf of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.”

Asked about the note, Hupp told House investigators, “I do not recall sending this email, but I do recall there being discussions about the possibility of securing an old mattress from the Trump Hotel.”

“Discussions with who?” the investigators asked.

“With the administrator,” Hupp replied. “I don’t recall specifically, other than he had expressed interest in securing a mattress.”

Hupp said she did not remember more of the interaction with the Trump Hotel, including whether a mattress was ever purchased.

Amanda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Gowdy, on Monday criticized the decision by Democrats to release part of Hupp’s statements. “Selectively releasing portions of witness interview transcripts damages the credibility of our investigation and discourages future witnesses from coming forward,” she said.

Gonzalez did not respond when asked if Gowdy would support using his subpoena power. The Democrats cannot issue one on their own.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the EPA, said in a statement, “We are working diligently with Chairman Gowdy and are in full cooperation in providing the Committee with the necessary documents, travel vouchers, receipts and witnesses to his inquiries.” He declined to provide information about the mattress.