Political News

New Files Shed Light on the Day Guards Smashed Scott Pruitt’s Door

Posted May 8, 2018 9:20 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The urgent message that came in to the head of criminal enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency was short and to the point: “The boys did good — they did what needed to be done.” It added one more detail: “All good — except for a couple of doors we’ll have to pick up the tab for.”

On March 29 last year, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the EPA, had vanished for several hours after reporting to his staff that he was feeling ill. Security was dispatched to the $50-a-night, lobbyist-owned Capitol Hill condo where he was living to see if he was OK.

To gain entry, the agents had to knock down the front door to the building.

Pruitt was fine. But the episode grew into one of the early mysteries of his tenure: What happened that day? New documents obtained this week through a Freedom of Information request help to explain the sequence of events, and the monthslong effort to get the EPA to pay for the door.

It began that day when Pruitt’s staff made repeated phone calls to him that went unanswered. So they called Washington emergency dispatchers. “They say he’s unconscious at this time,” a 911 operator was told that evening, according to recordings of the emergency call obtained by ABC last year. “I don’t know about the breathing portion.”

The emails detail what happened next. An agent “is on site and is breaching [name redacted] door to gain access,” said a 5:20 p.m. email sent to the EPA inspector general’s office and to the head of the agency’s criminal investigations unit.

Pruitt, his staff said, had told his aides the day before that he was feeling groggy and had a bad headache. The episode took place at the condo Pruitt was renting from the wife of a lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, whose firm had business pending with Pruitt and the EPA.

The rental of the condo is the subject of an investigation by the EPA’s inspector general. Until last month Hart was the chairman of Williams & Jensen lobbying firm, whose EPA-regulated clients included Oklahoma Gas & Electric; Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor; and Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company.

Pruitt has defended the rental as within ethics guidelines, has said he was paying market rates and has said his living arrangements had no bearing on any policy decisions at the EPA.

The emails include correspondence that took place after the security detail first went to the condo, at 233 C St. NE, a mile and a half from EPA headquarters, as well as a series of follow-ups as the building owners attempted to get the agency to reimburse it for the damage.

“Late call out to sweep up and remove debris from broken door,” says an invoice from CR8 Construction, the local company hired to do repairs. “Locate, purchase and install special order door to match neighboring door styles. Rip door and install new hardware. Match and purchase paint to match exterior and interior color schemes. Prep, prime and finish door.”

The total bill: $2,460.

According to a spokesman for the landlord, Vicki Hart, only one door was actually smashed. Apparently Pruitt was awakened when the front door to the building was broken open, meaning he was able to unlock a second door inside the unit before that was broken down, too, the spokesman said. Pruitt had been staying in a room on the third door of the Capitol Hill town house.

It was not until mid-September, at the earliest, that the agency moved to pay the bill. “Kindly confirm when we can expect to receive payment,” said one email from mid-August, following up on an invoice that had been sent in May detailing the cost of the damage.

A spokesman for Pruitt, Jahan Wilcox, declined to provide further details about the episode. The EPA has acknowledged that it reimbursed the condo association $2,640 for the cost of the new door.

Pruitt has a 20-member security detail providing round-the-clock protection that has cost more than $3 million in salary, overtime and travel. Asked on Tuesday why the security detail did not have a key to open the door, an EPA agent involved in the matter, John Mickle, said he had no comment.

In July 2017 Hart, the former lobbyist, met with Pruitt on behalf of a client of his firm, Smithfield Foods and its Smithfield Foundation, while Pruitt was living in the condo, to discuss funding for the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay. He later sent an email to Pruitt’s chief of staff asking Pruitt to appoint people recommended by his client to the EPA’s prestigious Science Advisory Board.

An EPA official said the individuals recommended by Hart were not appointed. “We do not believe it was a conflict of interest,” the official said, asking that he not be identified by name because he was not authorized to discuss the matter. “We simply believe they were suggestions.”

Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the EPA, has objected to the agency paying for the door. McCollum owns a condo adjacent to the building were Pruitt was living, and was present when security officers broke down the door.

“I know that Congress appropriates money for the EPA to protect human health and the environment — not for repairs to the administrator’s residence,” she wrote in a letter last month to the agency.