Political News

Documents show Scott Pruitt a frequent diner at White House mess hall

Posted June 7, 2018 12:36 p.m. EDT

— The elite dining room in the White House basement, known as the White House Mess, is a small enclave decorated with fresh flowers, wood paneling and paintings of ships befitting its military history dating back to 1951 as the "Commissioned Officers Mess."

It has also been a frequent destination for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to entertain his friends from back home in Oklahoma, as well to eat regularly during the week, according to documents released in response to an open records request filed by the Sierra Club.

In July 2017 alone, Pruitt and his guests dined at the White House Mess at least nine separate times, the documents show.

A bill sent to the EPA from the White House's military office show Pruitt's account racked up nearly $400 in charges at the White House Mess that month -- ranging from purchases of skirt steak and pineapple-glazed salmon to more breakfast-oriented choices like pancakes and a cheese omelet. A particularly patriotic dessert, "Chocolate Freedom," was also ordered.

In addition to the July 2017 charges, the document also indicates more than $500 in additional charges were also previously made at the White House Mess through Pruitt's account (they were paid off, the statement shows).

At one point last year, the White House said to cool it with the visits, according to Politico, which first reported on Thursday about Pruitt's White House dining habits.

According to three sources cited by Politico, a White House official told agency chiefs of staff last year that Cabinet members shouldn't treat the mess as their personal dining hall, with one person close to Pruitt saying the message to the EPA administrator was: "We love having Mr. Pruitt, but it's not meant for everyday use."

Politico cited people close to Pruitt who claimed the directive wasn't solely aimed at him, though they did not dispute he was a frequent presence at the dining room, located just steps from the Situation Room.

CNN has reached out to the White House and the EPA for comment on this report and have not yet received a response.

The White House Mess is run by the US Navy and the limited tables are only "available to senior White House officials including commissioned officers, Cabinet secretaries, and their guests." (For normal White House staffers, there is a separate take-out window they can use at certain hours).

The dining room was already small, with only a dozen tables, and renovations to the facility that started last year made the space even tighter.

Like many dining rooms and cafeterias operated for federal employees, the food is available at subsidized rates compared to a normal Washington restaurant.

The EPA headquarters does not have its own cafeteria or private dining room. Although nearby federal agencies within a few blocks have dining options potentially available to him, Pruitt liked to head to the White House for lunch.

Among the guests Pruitt invited to join him at the White House Mess during his tenure was Oklahoma City businessman Bob Funk, with whom Pruitt had purchased a stake in a minor league baseball team.

Additionally, a group of five friends from Oklahoma dined with Pruitt at the White House Mess in September, the documents show.

In correspondence related to one of them, Jerry Dillion, the EPA did not redact Dillon's social security number in the documents it provided to the Sierra Club.

The five Pruitt friends were advised that Pruitt would be driving to their lunch, just a few blocks away, and only one of them can accompany him -- so they should "hop in a cab/uber" and meet Pruitt over at the White House instead.

Pruitt has been facing a slew of ethical allegations and is the subject of nearly a dozen reviews into his conduct.

This week, the heat increased on the EPA administrator with the revelations that Pruitt had used an EPA aide to inquire about Chick-fil-A business opportunity for his wife. It also emerged that the agency spent $1,560 in taxpayer money to purchase 12 luxury fountain pens.

Two of Pruitt's closest aides at the agency also resigned Wednesday, an EPA official confirmed to CNN.

Sarah Greenwalt, a senior counselor to Pruitt, and Millan Hupp, who worked as Pruitt's scheduling director, are set to leave late this week and early next week.

Hupp and Greenwalt were the two aides who were set to receive Pruitt-approved pay raises despite the White House's refusal to sign off on the raises.

Hupp also recently testified before the House Oversight Committee that she did many personal tasks for Pruitt, including house-hunting and inquiring about obtaining a used Trump hotel mattress. She spearheaded his apartment search when his lobbyist landlords soured on his continued presence in their Capitol Hill condo; booked his personal travel; and inquired with President Donald Trump's DC hotel -- located across the street from EPA -- about purchasing a used mattress Pruitt had heard was available.

Her personal work for Pruitt raised red flags among ethics experts. Federal employees are subject to specific rules designed to prevent officials from using their office for personal gain or taking advantage of subordinates.